Huge rise in number of older children entering care

Care system demographics have changed massively, says children's commissioner

Published on 1st August 2019

There has been an "explosion" in the number of older children and teenagers going into care, the children's commissioner for England has warned.

Publishing her 2019 Stability Index, which aims to measure of the stability of the lives of children in care in England, Anne Longfield said that the profile and needs of children in care has changed over the last five years, driven by a growing share of older children and teenage care entrants who have more complex needs and potentially more expensive living arrangements.

Older children are six times more likely than children under 13 to be living in residential or secure children’s homes, and nearly half are living in privately-run accommodation.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “There are an increasing number of teenage children in the care system and too many of them are ‘pin-balling’ around the system, changing home and family, school and social worker. Often they have the most complex and expensive needs. In one local authority, 20% of the entire children’s services budget is being spent on just ten children. This is completely unsustainable."

The report reveals that the number of teenagers (aged 13 or over) in care rose by 21% between 2012/13 and 2017/18, while the number of 0-5 year olds fell by 15%.

There has been a large increase in the number of over 16s entering care during the year rising by 25% between 2013/14 and 2017/18 – much higher than for any other age group. As a result, nearly 1 in 4 children in care is now over 16 and a further 2 in 5 are aged 10-15.
The changes mean that the care system has transformed over the last five years from one based on very young children living in foster homes, to one where more and more older children are entering care and needing more specialist homes.

These teenagers are;

- Six times more likely to be victims of child sexual exploitation,

- Seven times more likely to go missing from home,

- Five times more likely to be involved in gangs

- 12 times more likely to be victims of trafficking and

- Four times more likely to misuse drugs.

Older children entering care also experience much higher levels of instability being around 80% more likely, compared to the national average, to experience two or more changes of home within a year.

The 2019 Stability Index showed that overall, at a national level, most rates of instability have not fallen since last year’s 2016/17 report. In 2017/18, 1 in 10 children in care experienced two more home moves during the year, 1 in 10 moved school in the middle of the school year, and just over 1 in 4 experienced two or more changes of social worker.

The report revealed:

- Over a three-year period, more than half of children in care moved home at least once.

- 1 in 10 experience moves four or more times.

- Less than 3 in 10 children in care experienced no change of home, no change of school and no change of social worker change through the year.

- Approximately 1 in 20 – experienced a home move, a school move and a change in social worker within the same year (2017/18).

- Over two years from 2016/17 to 2017/18, 7,100 children experienced all of these changes; this works out to roughly 1 in 7 of those in care in both years.

- More than 45,000 children in care – 3 in 5 – experienced at least one change of social worker in 2017/18, while more than 20,000 children in care – just over 1 in 4 – experienced two or more changes.

- The proportion of children in care experiencing multiple placement moves in 2017/18 ranged from 4% to 20% across local authorities, while the proportion of children experiencing a mid-year school move ranged from 4% to 22%.

- For social worker stability the variation is even wider: the proportion of children experiencing multiple changes of social worker in 2017/18 varies from 0% to 51%. In local authorities with higher rates of agency staff, higher rates of social worker turnover and higher social worker vacancy rates, children in care are more likely to experience multiple changes of social worker in a year.

The children’s commissioner is today warning that councils and the government have yet to catch up with this new normal, which is contributing to instability in the care system.

Her office's recent work on local authority spending on children has revealed the costs to the system – with councils spending increasingly high amounts on a very small number of children with acute needs.

Anne Longfield concluded: "It is clear that we have a care system which is playing catch up. The new norm is shifting so that fewer babies and very young children are being taken off parents who cannot cope. Instead it is teenagers who are being taken into care because they are experiencing issues such as criminal or sexual exploitation, going missing from home, and parents being unable to protect them.

“The result is a care system that is struggling to cope and which in turn is not providing the stability that many highly vulnerable children need. We should be alarmed that one in ten children in care moved home four or more times in three years. These children are being denied the chance to put down roots, to feel part of a family and to settle at school. It is not surprising that they are often the ones most at risk of exploitation.

“All children in care have a right to expect that the state does all it can to improve their chances of growing up in stable and loving environments.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: "Councils are currently supporting record numbers of children through the care system. Last year, 88 children a day entered care, against a backdrop of unprecedented cuts to local authority budgets.

“As this report highlights, more children are entering the care system with complex needs, and it can be harder for councils to find the best possible placement, which can result in moves despite the best efforts of everyone involved. No child should be kept in an inappropriate environment simply to avoid another move.

“A national recruitment campaign for foster carers would help ensure we have a choice of families to place children with to best meet their needs. The government should also use the Spending Review to fill the £3.1 billion funding gap facing children’s services by 2025," she concluded.

Stability Index 2019


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