More than 30,000 children in care were placed out of area last year, in placements miles from their schools, friends, family and support networks.
The Good Law project states that time and again local authorities are placing children in care in the cheapest accommodation, rather than the accommodation that best meets their needs.
“Good Law Project has launched ground-breaking legal action to prevent children being put at risk by being separated from their support networks. We’re challenging five local authorities – Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex, Surrey and Derby City – for not complying with their duty,” said a statement from the project.
The project highlights how children are impacted by being placed far from home:
“As a result of my move, I have felt unwanted in various aspects of my life” – Claudia.
“I was worried about my A- Level exams, as getting into university was important to me. But I was placed very far away from my college.” – Sedil
Not only are children placed in a vulnerable situation, being away from their family, friends, schools and familiar surroundings often miles away from home and with little advance warning, they are also more vulnerable to criminal exploitation, trafficking and ‘county lines’ – where children are groomed to be involved with drug dealing - than those who remain in their home area.
According to a recent Ofsted report, distant placements contribute to the sexual exploitation of children because it makes it more difficult for agencies to work together to keep them safe.
The Good Law Project states that councils have a legal duty to ensure that children in care are accommodated within their local area if that is in their best interests, which, for the vast majority of children, it will be. They also have a duty to ensure there is enough provision in their area to allow that to happen. Out of area placements are intended to be a last resort. Yet, thousands of children are being sent miles away from everything and everyone they know.
Three quarters of children’s homes are now run by the private sector and these are disproportionately located in the North of England due to property being cheaper. The project claims that the six largest private care providers made £219 million in profit, whilst local authorities struggled to balance their books and outcomes for children in care remain dire.
As well as challenging five local authorities for placing children at risk by putting them in out-of-area placements, the Good Law Project is also challenging the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, for failing to exercise his power to step in.
“We believe the Secretary of State’s failure to act, whilst children in care suffer, to be unlawful,” the statement concluded.
Good Law Project is a not-for-profit campaign organisation that uses the law to protect the interests of the public. The pre-action letter is available here.