There were almost a thousand children in care living over 150 miles away from the area they would call home, the children’s commissioner has warned.
At 31st March 2018, four in ten children in care in England were living ‘out of area’, with more than 11,000 children living more than 20 miles from their home postcode.
There were over 2,000 children living 100 miles away from their home postcode and almost a thousand children living over 150 miles away their home area.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “For most of us, Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends, yet many children in care are living many miles away from the place they call home because councils have nowhere suitable for them to live. Some children in care have told me they feel like parcels – passed from pillar to post, unsure where they even are on a map. We wouldn’t want this for our own children, and we shouldn’t accept it either for those children who rely on the state to look after them.”
Her report ‘Pass the parcel: children posted around the care system’ also highlights that there has been a 13% rise in the number of children in care living ‘out of area’ over the last four years.
Children in care placed out of borough are disconnected from their support networks of family and friends. They may have to change schools and are in unfamiliar settings during an emotionally difficult period. Often these moves are being made without advance warning or preparation. The children most likely to live ‘out of area’ are aged 13 or over.
Particular areas take on disproportionate numbers of children from other areas, the report says. The three local authorities that send most children out of their areas are all in London – Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Tower Hamlets. In Kent and Lincolnshire, for every one child placed out of their area in 2017/18, they have four children placed in their area by other local authorities.
Children who are moved ‘out of area’ are more likely to be living in a children’s home or residential care, and lacking the family structure that fostering can bring. Those living out of area are also more likely to be moved around, increasing instability in their lives and making it harder to settle or thrive at school. Often it is these children who are most open to exploitation.
One teenage girl in care who was placed more than 100 miles from home told researchers: “I feel like a parcel getting moved around all the time, getting opened up and sent back and moved on to somewhere else.”
Another teenager in care said: “I never unpack cos I know I’ll be passed on somewhere else in a few weeks”.
The report stresses that in some cases it is necessary for children to be moved out of the are when, for example, they are at risk from gangs or criminal exploitation in their home area. However, often it is the case that there is nowhere suitable for the children in care to live locally and with the numbers of children in care rising there are insufficient places locally for them to live. Many of these children end up being placed in a children’s home run by private companies in cheaper areas.
The children’s commissioner is urging the new government to carry out an independent review into the children’s social care system, as pledged in its manifesto, and look specifically at children living out of area.
The Department for Education should also carry out an urgent review into the residential care market, and for a capital injection for future commissioning arrangements and more incentives to councils to find local homes for children in care.
Anne Longfield concluded; “The government has a manifesto commitment to review the children’s care system. They need to launch it in the New Year and it must be wide-ranging, independent and lead to concerted action and improvement. The present system does provide love and support to thousands of children, but there are also many others who are living very vulnerable lives, many miles away from anyone they know. We have to make the state a better parent for these children.”