Official figures to measure how many vulnerable children go missing from care and are subjected to exploitation are confusing and meaningless, the government admitted today.
Children’s Minister Tim Loughton told MPs that it was impossible to know the extent or scale of the problem because the data collected by police, care services and Ofsted was “raw and erratic”.
Loughton, who was giving evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry on missing children from care, said he didn’t rule out a government inquiry into the state of children’s homes where 40 per cent of youngsters in care are looked after.
Figures released this week in wake of the Rochdale sex exploitation ring show that hundreds of girls in care are known to have been sexually abused in the past five years, with poorly trained staffed apparently powerless to prevent the abuse, according to the Children’s Society.
The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester today announced that further arrests were likely in connection with the child sexual grooming ring in Rochdale.
Peter Fahy said he hoped more victims will come forward after evidence from five girls, all in care at the time of the abuse, led to the jailing of nine men on Tuesday.
The men, who exploited girls as young as 13, were given sentences of four to 19 years, but police believe there could be as many as 47 victims.
The nine perpetrators, eight of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan, were found guilty of offences including rape and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child.
Education Minister Michael Gove yesterday ordered the deputy children’s commissioner to produce recommendations within four weeks on how to protect children in residential homes from predatory abusers who hang around outside homes looking for victims. The 15-year-old girl at the centre of the Rochdale case, used for sex by 25 Asian men in one night, was the sole resident of a privately-run home which charged £250,000 a year for “intense and individual” care.
Loughton told the MPs that he would publish a progress report on the tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) action plan before Parliament broke for summer recess. Updated, simplified guidance for local authorities will also be published, with tougher rules and new legislation possible.
Loughton said: “Data on missing children from care is an area of concern and confusion… we do not know the extent of the problem, so we need to raise the profile like we are doing for child sex exploitation as I’m sure it is much underreported and the scale is underestimated.”
He added: “The extent of the horrendous abuse being uncovered [through the CSE action plan’s work] is eye watering. The extent of this had been underestimated and underreported for a long time.”
Care homes are currently required to report any child as missing to the police if they stay out past their agreed curfew. This means police can end up with 30 reports about the same youngster in a month who maybe perfectly safe, the MPs were told. Police and Ofsted both us different criteria, so the data is incomparable.
Children in care homes have much higher rates of mental health and behavioural problems than other children who go through the care system. The Minister said he wanted to improve the quality of care homes so that they became therapeutic places rather than those seen as a last resort for the most difficult children.