Ann Coffey MP has welcomed a new clampdown on children’s homes, announced by the Government today(Tuesday), which will tighten the net on sexual predators.
Ms Coffey, who is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said she was delighted with the shake-up announced by Edward Timpson, the children’s minister, following campaigning by her group.
Last year she chaired a Parliamentary Inquiry into the risks faced by children who go missing from care, which recommended most of the changes announced today.
Her inquiry heard that children in care are three times more likely to run away and go missing than children living at home and that a significant minority of young people coming into the care system are targeted for sexual exploitation.
Perpetrators target children’s homes specifically because of the high vulnerability of the children in them. The North West has twenty five per cent of all children’s homes.
Today’s new regulations for children’s homes and Revised Statutory guidance on children who runaway or go missing from home or care shines a spotlight on where local authorities and children’s homes can do better.
Children’s homes in unsafe areas will have to close unless they can demonstrate how they can protect children.
And Ofsted will only allow new homes to open in safe areas, run by competent providers.
The Government is also working with Ofsted to toughen up their inspection and intervention powers – scrapping “adequate” and replacing it with “requires improvement” and extending their powers to take swifter action to tackle poor quality and suspend or cancel the registration of homes.
Ms Coffey said: “These new rules will tighten the net on sexual predators who prey on vulnerable children living in children’s homes.
“For too long these, predominantly private children’s homes have operated in the shadows. These reforms will ensure more transparency and better quality.
“It will also stop the disgraceful practice of children being sent to live in cheaper, run-down “hot spot” areas where there might a drugs problem or be a bail hostel housing paedophiles in the same street.
“We have taken these children into our care and they should be treated in the same way as we would want for our own children.
“I am also delighted that from September Ofsted will inspect a local authority’s performance on how they are meeting the statutory requirements to reduce the number of children who go missing from care”.
The reforms take forward the recommendations of the three Expert Groups convened by the Department to look at the quality in children’s homes, data on missing children and out-of-area placements. Ms Coffey sat on the children’s homes group.
The quality of children’s homes and training for staff will be improved with mandatory limits for staff to achieve minimum qualifications.
The rules on placing children in homes miles from their own areas will be tightened with the decision to place a child “out of borough” only being taken by a senior official. Almost half of children in children’s homes are placed out of their local area and many runaway.
These children are also more likely to be targeted for sexual exploitation as highlighted in recent cases in Derby, Torbay, Rochdale and Oxfordshire.
The government is also consulting on plans to strengthen safety in children’s homes by introducing new rules so children’s homes work much more closely with the police and Local Authorities to prevent children going missing and putting themselves at risk.
Edward Timpson, the children’s minister, will be talking about the reforms at a meeting of the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children, chaired by Ms Coffey at 5pm in the House of Commons, tomorrow (Wednesday).
The Manchester Evening News ran a major campaign championing the rights of missing children after it revealed that there were 11,800 incidents of children going missing in Greater Manchester in 2010 – and that half of them related to children in care
Ann Coffey MP has welcomed plans to give families extra help to cope when a loved one goes missing.
The proposals from the Ministry of Justice are to create a new power of “guardianship” for relatives of missing people.
This would allow families to deal with the legal and financial issues that arise in the initial months when someone vanishes – for example being able to suspend direct debits for mobile phone and utility bills.
Ms Coffey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, is a long time campaigner for the guardianship power and in 2011 she chaired a Parliamentary Inquiry into support for the families of missing people.
Two of the main recommendations from the Inquiry were a Presumption of Death Act and a power of guardianship to help families cope with financial and practical issues in the short term.
The Presumption of Death Act, received Royal Assent in May, and will be introduced in April 2014.
Ms Coffey said: “I am delighted with that we now have plans for a guardianship order. Under current law families of missing people have no way to make alternative arrangements until their loved one can be presumed dead, which can be many years after they go missing. On-going direct debits can drain a missing person’s bank account and some families are forced to pay both halves of a joint mortgage, and some families risk losing their homes.
“A guardianship order will help many families cope in the initial months with the complicated financial and practical affairs of a relative who has been missing for a short period of time. It will alleviate some stress for families at a time of great emotional upheaval.”
A consultation on guardianship with detailed proposals is due to be launched later this year with a view to taking a final decision in 2014.
The Presumption of Death Act put in place the legal framework for a certificate of presumed death, which will help families deal with the array of legal and financial issues that need to be resolved when a person is missing and presumed dead. The certificate will be equivalent to a death certificate in its legal power.
I visited Newlands residential Care home in Heaton Moor to celebrate National Care Home Open Day with residents on June 21.
Along with thousands of residential care homes around the country, Newlands opened its doors with the aim of creating lasting links between care home residents and their local community. Newlands put on a rich variety of events which residents, their families and guests all enjoyed together, including games, musical entertainment, dancing – plus strawberry cream teas and cakes of course.
I met many residents and their families when I dropped in to support the event, including 92 year old Lillian Buchanan, who is pictured here.