The number of children being sent to live in children’s homes outside their own borough has soared despite a government pledge to clampdown on distant placements.
Ann Coffey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Missing Children and Adults, said the latest figures were ‘bitterly disappointing’ coming four years after the government said it would reduce the numbers.
A high proportion of children placed miles away from their home area go missing and are at risk of harm.
According to Parliamentary answers obtained by Ms Coffey from the Department for Education, there was a 56 per cent increase nationally in children placed in children’s homes out of their borough from 2,250 in March 31, 2012 to 3,510 in March 31, 2016.
The total number of looked after children increased from 67,050 in March 2012 to 70,440 in March 2016. During the same period the number of children placed in children’s homes increased from 4,890 to 5,940.
Ann Coffey MP has welcomed the introduction of a new National Missing Persons Register as the number of missing children incidents in Greater Manchester continues to increase.
The new Register, to be introduced in 2018, will allow police forces to access information about children going missing across force boundaries, which they cannot do at the moment.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults – Inquiry into the Safeguarding of ‘Absent’ Children
At least 10,000 children a year could be at ‘terrible risk’ because they receive no active police response when they go missing, according a parliamentary inquiry published today.
The inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, supported by The Children’s Society, has called for a controversial police recording system for missing children, introduced in 2013, to be abandoned because it does not safeguard children from harm.
Under the two-tier system, children are classed as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ – but crucially only a child classed as missing receives an active police response.
The inquiry heard that children who go missing but are classified by the police as absent slip under services’ radar until the risks, such as child sexual exploitation, become too serious.
The inquiry also heard of cases of children, who were classed as ‘absent’ but who had been groomed for sexual exploitation or criminal involvement such as drug running across county lines.
MPs on the APPG concluded that the separate ‘absent’ category should be scrapped and instead, all missing children should receive the response that is proportionate to the risks they face. The inquiry recommends that this response should always be informed by a joint assessment between the police and children’s services, in order to build up a picture of the child’s life and the risks they face when missing.
The latest figures show that 9,780 runaway children went ‘off the radar’ in a total of 21,399 incidents in 2014-15 because police classed them as ‘absent’ rather than ‘missing’.
The true figure is likely to be even higher as only 29 police forces, out of 37 who have implemented the system, could provide any data on absent children.
Ann Coffey MP, who chaired the inquiry, said:
“All the evidence shows that the new absent category is dangerous and should be scrapped. It is not fit for purpose.
“It was introduced to save police time but has turned out to be a blunt, crude assessment tool that leaves children who are regularly classed as absent in danger of sexual exploitation and of being groomed by criminal gangs. It is scary that exploited young people are falling off the radar and no one knows what is happening to them.
“From Rotherham to Rochdale we have seen a pattern of young people and their families not being taken seriously. Our inquiry heard of one mother whose child was classed as absent. She was left to cope alone and drove around all night long frantically looking for her daughter.
“It is also shocking that there are unacceptable inconsistencies between and within police forces in their approach to missing children. It is now time for all police forces to abandon this hit and miss system. Children deserve the same protection wherever they live.
“There needs to be a joint risk assessment by police and children’s services otherwise children can be left at terrible risk which could have been prevented.”
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:
“Children who go missing face serious risks of abuse, including child sexual exploitation. The absent category must be dropped. Not only is it preventing vulnerable children from getting the vital help they need, it leaves them in danger.
“Everything possible needs to be done to make sure any child who goes missing receives an active response and when they are found, that they are listened to.
“It is vital that all missing children have the chance to speak to an independent professional who can help them deal with the issues that made them run away in the first place to help stop them from going missing again. No child should feel that no one cares about them.”
The inquiry was also concerned that the initial risk assessment focussed on immediate risk despite the fact that for children at risk of being groomed for sexual or criminal exploitation or drug running, it is the ongoing and cumulative risk that is of most concern.
NB – You can find a link to the full inquiry report here – https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/appg-absent-inquiry-final-report-may-2016-embargoed_0.pdf