There has been a 64 percent increase in the numbers of children being placed in residential homes out of borough.
Figures from the Department for Education obtained in a written answer to Labour MP Ann Coffey reveal that the number of children placed out of borough has risen from 2,250 in 2012 to 3,680 in March 2017.
Furthermore, children placed out of borough now accounts for the majority of children in children’s homes at 61 per cent.
Ann Coffey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, who was previously a senior social worker, said there is growing evidence that “a sent away generation” of vulnerable youngsters are in danger of falling prey to paedophiles and drugs gangs.
Ms Coffey said: “The government promised to curb the growing practice of farming out children to homes that are sometimes 100 miles from where they live.
“Shockingly, the rise has not stopped at all, but has got worse. Despite the pledge, record numbers of children are being sent away to places where they are more vulnerable to exploitation,” she added.
Alarmingly, the incidence of children going missing from “out of borough” placements has increased by 110 percent from 4,380 incidents in 2015 to 9,910 in 2017. This is a faster rate of increase than for those going missing from children’s homes within their own borough, which increased by 68 per cent over the same period.
There are strong links between children going missing and sexual exploitation as was seen in the scandals in Rochdale and Rotherham. The National Crime Agency has also reported that children groomed to sell Class A drugs in ‘County Lines’ operations are often listed as missing.
Figures from Ms Coffey’s Stockport area reveal that 53 per cent of children reported as missing from local children’s homes in April were classed as at risk of child sexual exploitation and 65 per cent of those who went missing from Stockport children’s homes were from out of borough placements.
The high numbers of children in out of borough placements has mainly been caused by the uneven distribution of children’s homes around the country. Fifty four per cent of homes are in just three regions and nearly a quarter of all children’s homes are in the North West of England.
Ms Coffey said that the private sector marketplace in social care is “catastrophically failing children” and pushing up the prices charged to local authorities, with some homes now charging up to £5,000 a week per child for the first time.
Ms Coffey highlighted the North West Placement 2017 Census, produced by Placements Northwest, a regional children’s services project which assists the 22 local authorities in the North West making out of authority placements, which revealed there are not enough places for local North West children as beds in the region are taken up by young people from other areas.
It said: “There remain many young people from the North West placed outside the region, in part because of the 693 beds located here taken up by young people from the rest of the country.
“Externally purchased residential placements have seen a very significant and unprecedented increase in numbers rising to 836 active placements up from 646 in 2016 and 571 in 2015. This has resulted in an estimated increase in spend of £45 million between 2016 and 2017.”
This was described as “a very significant and unsustainable increase in the spend on residential services”.
Ms Coffey said: “These children are running away at a faster rate and are being targeted and preyed upon by paedophiles and criminals who know they are vulnerable.
“The farming out of children to areas where they have no friends or family circles or local social workers has created a perfect storm where it is increasingly difficult to protect children.
“The children’s homes market is catastrophically failing children and young people. It is ridiculous that vulnerable children in the North West cannot get a place locally and have to be sent away.
“Local authorities have their hands tied with little choice about where children should be placed because of the uneven distribution of children’s homes.
“The system is working in the interests of the private providers but crucially not for the children themselves. It is not fit for purpose.”
In 2012 the APPG on Missing Children conducted an inquiry into children missing from care, chaired by Ms Coffey, which called for a reduction in the number of out of borough placements and revealed that children placed a long way from home were at greater risk of going missing and at a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse, criminality and homelessness.
Children gave evidence that they felt ‘dumped’ away from home which increased their propensity to go missing.
Ministers said they shared Ms Coffey’s concern about the numbers of children being placed “out of sight, out of mind” in out of borough children’s homes and announced a package of measures to strengthen the rules to reduce numbers. Despite this numbers have soared, said Ms Coffey.