Earlier today I led a debate in Parliament on the sexual and criminal exploitation of children who go missing from care.
In the report ‘No Place at Home‘ the All-Party Parliamentary Group highlighted the risks facing children who go missing from out of area placements – we found that children sent to live many miles away from their home area were being targetted for exploitation by criminal gangs and paedophiles.
In 2012 we recognised that placing children out of area increases a child’s risk of harm.
Despite government promises to reduce the numbers of children placed out of area, the situation is getting worse. There has been a 77% rise in the number of children in children’s homes placed out of area since 2012 and a doubling in the numbers of children reported missing from children’s homes since 2015.
The children’s homes market is broken and failing children. There is an uneven distribution of children’s homes across the country and three-quarters of children’s homes are privately run.
The Government must take action to support councils to reduce the number of children sent to live miles from home and ensure there are more local placements.
We cannot continue to fail the most vulnerable children.
Those interested can watch my speech below. The full debate can be viewed on Parliament TV here.
A copy of my speech is available here.
Today I spoke at Westminster Briefing’s County Lines Conference: Preventing and Tackling the Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults.
It is always good to hear from professionals and share ways to best protect children who are being exploited by criminal gangs to sell drugs.
Those of you with children aged 16 to 17 know how much support young people need as they grow up.
For young people in care, this can be an intensely difficult period. They struggle to cope without good family support.
I recently chaired an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults into the dangers faced by children who go missing from care when sent to live miles away from home.
The inquiry shone a light on an area which is causing deep concern – the increasing numbers of young people aged 16 and 17 who are living in unregulated, uninspected semi-independent accommodation.
This is a murky, twilight world which is off the radar.
They can become magnets for paedophiles and County Lines drugs gangs who prey on them because they are considered the easiest targets.
More than 5,000 looked after children are living in this shady world. In addition, many other young people, who are homeless, as a result of family break up, live in this unregulated accommodation. They are not classed as ‘looked-after’ and so no figures are kept on how many there are.
This accommodation is not inspected by Ofsted but it should be because many of these young people are very disadvantaged with few resources.
In law they are still children, the vulnerability of their age is recognised.
We wouldn’t find it acceptable to have our 16 and 17 year olds living in accommodation miles away from home with no care being provided but this is what is happening to young people in our care.
Our inquiry recommended that semi-independent accommodation should be regulated and inspected. The time for warm words from government is over. Our young people need action.