Ann Coffey


Welfare of Children More Important than Profits

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High numbers of young people are still being placed in children’s homes many miles away from where they live because it is more profitable for private companies, according to a campaigning children’s MP.

Ann Coffey MP, the chair of the All Party Group on missing children, said the children’s home market, criticised in a report by her group in 2012, still operates in the interests of the providers and not in the interests of children.

Speaking in the Commons during a backbench debate this afternoon, she said that the number of children placed in out of borough placements was the same as in 2012.

The latest 2014 data pack on children’s homes shows that a third of children in children’s homes are still placed 20 miles or more from their local authority.

Ms Coffey said one of the main reasons for this was that children’s homes continue to be set up in low cost areas to suit business rather than what is best for the children.

This leads to clusters of children’s homes in areas of cheap property spread unevenly across England leaving local authorities very little choice but to place children outside their area. For example the North West has 25 per cent of all children’s homes.

Seventy nine per cent of homes are in the private or voluntary sector and the private homes can charge more than £3,600 per child per week and more than £5,000 a week for children with complex needs.

There have been concerns about the number of larger private equity firms that entered the children’s homes market, including GI partners, Bowmark Capital and Baird Capital.

The latest DFE data said that older children were more likely to be placed away from home and that one in 14 over the age of ten were living more than 50 miles away from their home area.

This is all the more concerning because children in children’s homes are more likely to go missing frequently putting them at risk of harm and child sexual exploitation.

In 2012 the Government made a number of recommendations to help remedy the unequal distribution of children’s homes in the market and to mitigate the impacts of children being placed at distance.

However the latest 2014 data pack on children’s homes shows that the picture of where homes are located and the number of children being placed out of borough has not changed.

Ms Coffey said: “It is disappointing that progress is slow. We have still got the continuing problem of the children being sent to where the homes are rather than the homes being where the children are. All of this evidence paints a picture of a market that is run in the interests of the providers not in the interests of children and young people.

“Clearly these big private equity firms do not invest in children’s homes for altruistic purposes. It is therefore important that their profits should not be at the expense of the needs of the children.”

Ms Coffey said that she hoped the current investigation into children’s residential care by Sir Martin Narey would set out proposals to ensure that children are not being put at risk by being placed long distances from their home areas.

She said it was vital that the £1 billion currently being spent by local authorities on children’s homes was used to ensure that the best possible care is being provided to meet the needs of looked after children.

Full details of Ms Coffey’s speech in today’s Backbench Business Debate  can be seen here –