Ann Coffey

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Greater Manchester ‘sent away’ children in danger

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Tuesday May 8, 2018

The government has broken a promise to cut soaring numbers of children being “farmed out” to children’s homes vast distances from where they were brought up and live.

Ann Coffey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, will use a Commons debate today (Tuesday) to say there is growing evidence that “a sent away generation” of vulnerable youngsters are in danger of falling prey to paedophiles and drugs gangs.

The government pledged to clampdown on so called out of borough placements five years ago but there has been a 64 per cent rise nationally in the number of children being sent to live away between 2012 and 2017.

There has also been a huge increase in the number of sent-away children going missing with the number of missing incidents more than doubling to almost 10,000 a year.

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 own 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. 54 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.

She said the failure of the care market is vividly demonstrated by the North West Placement 2017 Census, produced by Placements Northwest, which is a regional children’s services project which assists the 22 local authorities in the North West making out of authority placements.

The Census reveals 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”.

Placements Northwest said nine per cent of placements now cost authorities £5,000 a week per child. Placements costing more than £3,200 per week have increased from 35 per cent in 2016 to 44 per cent. Those costing more than £4,000 per week increased from 17 per cent to 23 per cent.

Last year Ms Coffey highlighted her concerns about the numbers of children placed in Greater Manchester children’s homes from miles away in her report “Real Voices – Are they being heard?” into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.

It revealed that there were 400 children placed in Greater Manchester children’s homes of which half were placed outside their own authority.

In January Ms Coffey conducted a national survey of police forces about County Lines drugs operations and obtained evidence that in some areas children in out of borough placements were particularly targeted because they were seen as the most vulnerable.

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.

“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.”

Ms Coffey said devolution offers Greater Manchester Combined Authority an opportunity to commission children’s homes places on a regional basis but said the Department for Education needed to offer support to regional commissioners to help them develop a framework for commissioning the provision of children’s homes places.

“Without that, children will continue to be placed miles away from their home towns because that is where the vacancies are not because it is best for the children.

“That can’t be right,” she said.

The Stockport MP will release detailed figures obtained from the Department for Education in written answers which reveal:

  • Since 2012, the number of children placed out of borough has risen by 64 per cent from 2,250 to 3,680 in March 2017.  They now account for the majority of children in children’s homes – 61 per cent.
  • 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.

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.

In response to this evidence the government proposed a fundamental overall of children’s residential care to tackle system wide failings in 2013.

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.