Commissioner calls for urgent review into children’s residential care market

Anne Longfield

The Children’s Commissioner is calling for a review into the children’s residential care market after a report revealed four in ten young people in care in England were living ‘out of area’.

Figures have been revealed in a report published by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, which highlights experiences of children in care who are moved ‘out of area’ – away from their home boroughs where family and friends live.

The report, Pass the parcel: children posted around the care system, shows there are more than 30,000 looked after children living ‘out of area’. This is 41% of all children in care and has risen by 13% since 2014.

More than 11,000 are accommodated over 20 miles from their home postcode. Over 2,000 children are living 100 miles away from their home postcode and almost a thousand are more than 150 miles away.

Often moves are being made without advance warning or preparation, the report said.

The 25-page document found areas take on disproportionate numbers of children from other places. For example, for every child Kent and Lincolnshire placed out of their area in 2017/18 they have four children placed in their area by other local authorities.

The three councils that send most children out of their areas are Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Tower Hamlets – all London boroughs.

There are some occasions when children need to be moved ‘out of area’, the report said, particularly when they are at risk from gangs, criminal exploitation or violence. Often however, it is simply because there is nowhere suitable for them to live locally.

Longfield is calling on the government to meet its manifesto commitment for an independent review into the children’s social care system.

She is also calling for an urgent Department for Education review into the residential care market, and for a capital injection for future commissioning arrangements and more incentives to councils to find local homes for children in care.

The Children’s Commissioner said: ‘Some children in care have told me they feel like parcels – passed from pillar to post, unsure where they even are on a map. We wouldn’t want this for our own children, and we shouldn’t accept it either for those children who rely on the state to look after them.

‘The government has a manifesto commitment to review the children’s care system. They need to launch it in the New Year and it must be wide-ranging, independent and lead to concerted action and improvement.

‘The present system does provide love and support to thousands of children, but there are also many others who are living very vulnerable lives, many miles away from anyone they know. We have to make the state a better parent for these children.’

A government spokesperson said: ‘The safety and suitability of a child’s placement in care is our absolute priority, and moving a child away from home is always a last resort.

‘Placements are signed off by directors of children’s services, and Ofsted will rightly challenge decisions if they believe poor decisions are being made.

‘We know there are challenges in finding the right placements, and we’ve already pledged an extra £1.5bn for child and adult social services, as well as a review of the system so children receive the best possible care.’