Inquiry launched into missing children placed out of borough

Inquiry launches after figures show soaring levels of children in care placed out of borough who go missing

Published on 29th March 2019

MPs have launched an inquiry into the number of children who go missing from out of area placements.

Ann Coffey MP, who will chair the inquiry by The All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, has released figures from the Department for Education which show that one thousand more individual children in out of area placements have gone missing from children’s homes since 2015.

Ann Coffey 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," she added.

The number of children going missing from out-of-borough placements 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.

The government pledged to introduce measures in 2013 to reduce the numbers of children being placed in care out of their own borough. But despite this commitment, the situation has got worse and the number of ‘sent away’ children has increased to record levels with the latest figures revealing that:

- Two thirds (64 per cent) of all children living in children’s homes now live out of borough, up from 46 per cent in 2012.

- There has been a 77 per cent increase in the numbers of children sent to live in children’s homes out of area from 2,250 in 2012 to 3,990 in 2018.

- There has been a 25 per cent increase in all looked after children placed out of area, which includes foster care, secure units and also children’s homes, from 22,430 in 2012 to 28,050 in 2018.

Evidence suggests that without a support network of friends, family or a local social worker, children become isolated and run away. Children then become vulnerable to exploitation and become ‘sitting ducks’ and 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.

Supported by the Children's Society, the committee will examine the risks faced by children and young people who go missing from out of area placements and how their safety can be ensured.

Ms Coffey said: “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," she added.

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," she concluded.

The APPG is calling for evidence from individuals, organisations and children who have been sent out of borough.

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