Children’s care homes in England 'not fit for purpose', inquiry finds
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Monday 18 June 2012
Children’s care homes which are meant to look after the most vulnerable youngsters in England are “not fit for purpose”, despite costing at least £200,000 per child, a parliamentary inquiry has found.
MPs and peers are calling for an independent investigation into residential care homes after they found that £1bn of government money was failing to keep the children safe. Today’s joint report into children who go missing from care by two all-party groups reveals that the 65,000 children in care are three times more likely to run away than those who live at home. These children are being needlessly placed in great danger of physical and sexual abuse by failures in the system.
The report comes after the scandal in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, where a grooming ring sexually abused dozens of girls. Nine men, eight of Pakistani heritage and an Afghan asylum-seeker, were jailed last month.
Ann Coffey, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said: “There is a scandal going on in England involving children missing from care - and until recent cases of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and other places put the spotlight on this issue – it was pretty much going unnoticed.”
The report says that barriers which stop the police from being informed of the names and addresses of children’s homes in their areas must be demolished. Under the current system, they warn, a sexual predator could be sitting in a car outside a children’s home which the police do not know exists.
“Out of borough placements”, where children are sent to live hundreds of miles from their family home, must be reduced, they authors say. Almost half the residents in children’s homes live outside their own local authority.
Another proposal is for a new system of reporting incidents of children running away from care. Police figures show that 10,000 children went missing from care last year- but the Department for Education recorded only 930.
The report calls for the introduction of a “scorecard” to measure each council’s performance in protecting children in care who go missing. The inspectorate Ofsted should not be allowed to give a “good” report to a home where there have been hundreds of such incidents, it says, and should give more weighting to the way they are managed.
The Earl of Listowel, vice-chairman of the group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, said: “As the recent Rochdale case has clearly demonstrated, it is essential that no stone is left unturned when it comes to the care and protection of some of this country’s most vulnerable children.”
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “It is unacceptable that some of this country’s most vulnerable children are being completely let down by the very systems that should be there to protect them from these shocking crimes.”
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