MPs will today launch a Parliamentary inquiry into the record numbers of children who go missing after being ‘farmed out’ to live in children’s homes miles away.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults is concerned that there is growing evidence that a ‘sent away generation’ of vulnerable youngsters are in danger of falling prey to paedophiles and drugs gangs.
One thousand more individual children in out of area placements have gone missing from children’s homes since 2015, according to new Department for Education figures released today by Ann Coffey MP, who will chair the inquiry.
This has more than doubled from 990 in 2015 to 1,990 in 2018 and compares to a 31 per cent increase for children who go missing from children’s homes within their own borough.
This trend is confirmed in Ms Coffey’s own area of Stockport where 73 per cent of children reported missing from local children’s homes last year were placed out of area – 81 out of 110 missing children, according to statistics provided to the MP by Greater Manchester Police.
The inquiry will focus on the risks faced by children and young people who go missing from out of area placements and how their safety can be ensured.
Evidence suggests that being uprooted and placed a long way from family, friends and social workers leaves children isolated and is often a factor that causes them to run away.
They become ‘sitting ducks’ and are targeted and groomed for sexual and criminal exploitation, including being coerced into selling Class A drugs crack cocaine and heroin in ‘County Lines’ operations.
Ms Coffey has also written to all 43 police chief constables to ask for their observations about the link between out of area placements and children going missing and being targeted for sexual and criminal exploitation, especially ‘County Lines’.
In 2012, the APPG conducted a parliamentary inquiry into children missing from care and raised concerns about the number of children in cross-boundary placements.
The Government agreed to introduce measures in 2013 to reduce numbers. But despite this commitment, the situation has got worse and the number of ‘sent away’ children has increased to record levels. Latest figures show that*:
The APPG is today calling for evidence from individuals, organisations and children who have been sent faraway places.
Ann Coffey, the chair of the APPG and the inquiry, said:
“It shames us all that thousands of vulnerable children continue to be farmed out to live miles and miles away from home despite a government promise to clampdown on numbers.
“Isolated and alone without family, friends or local social workers to help protect them, they become sitting ducks for those who wish to prey on them. They are targeted by paedophiles and drugs gangs and can become trapped in a brutal world.
“The children’s homes system is broken. It is catastrophically failing children and young people and is instead working in the interest of private providers.
“Most children’s homes are bunched into three regions of the country with 25 per cent in the North West alone. Local authorities have their hands tied with little choice about where children should be placed because of the uneven distribution of children’s homes.
“This is a shocking state of affairs.”
Sam Royston, Director and Policy and Research at The Children’s Society, said:
“Children should only be placed away from their home area if it is in their best interests, but too often this is happening simply because local placements are unavailable.
“We are deeply concerned that the number of children being placed out of their home area rises year on year and that many of them go missing repeatedly. Going missing is an indicator of risk and a cry for help from children.
“By supporting this APPG inquiry we hope we can help identify viable, long-term solutions that will prevent an already vulnerable group of young people from being put at increased risk of harm through placements that should be keeping them safe.”
If you would like to contribute to the inquiry, the evidence is now being gathered until April 26th. More information is available here.