We need to improve outcomes for children in care
Author: Mark Russell, Chief Executive
Recently I gave evidence in parliament to the Education Committee on why urgent action is needed to improve outcomes for children in care, particularly those who experience placements in children’s homes.
The session I participated in was for the Education Committee’s Inquiry on children’s homes. The role of the Education Committee is to scrutinise the work of the Department for Education. This inquiry is therefore very important as it will result in recommendations for the Government on how to address the gaps in support and care for children living in children’s homes and unregulated accommodation.
The focus on children’s homes is crucial. The APPG inquiry into children missing from out of area placements No Place at Home, that we supported, showed that:
- The number of placements of children outside their local authority boundaries increases year on year. In 2019, more than 4 out of 10 children were in placements out of area.
- The number of children placed in unregulated accommodation (accommodation not registered or inspected by Ofsted) has been growing as well, increasing alarmingly from 2280 in 2018 to 3870 in 2020.
- Children missing from children’s homes and unregulated accommodation make up the biggest group of children who go missing from care — 56% in 2020.
- The risk of exploitation is high for these children — 70 % of police forces told us they are concerned about it, yet the level of support is insufficient.
We know that the number of teenagers in care with complex needs is growing and local authorities struggle to provide enough placements in areas where children need them. This results in placements further away from home, in frequent breakdown of placements and ultimately in children being failed, having interrupted education, lacking access to mental health support, and facing bleak outcomes in the future.
Urgent action is needed to ensure that children in care are given the best chance.
What changes do we want to see?
We believe it is important to address the underlying issues in the systems failing children.
- More focus is needed on intervening early to address issues in families and prevent the need for teenagers coming into care due to crisis in their lives. Spending on children’s services in the most deprived areas has fallen by 14% in the year 2010–11 and 2019–20. We need to make early intervention spending a priority again and new investment should be focussed on achieving a genuine shift from crisis support to earlier intervention.
- We need to ensure that care placements, including placements in children’s homes, are available where children need them and where their needs can be met in child centred and trauma informed way to ensure stability, relationship building and focus on long-term positive outcomes for children. The Department for Education should develop an Emergency Action Plan to address the issue of the lack of placements for children in care. This must be backed by funding.
- All accommodation for children in care must be good quality. All currently unregulated accommodation should become registered and regulated by Ofsted, adhering to high standards needed for children.
I will continue to talk to decision makers about these changes and ensure young people’s voices inform key policy developments. The Children’s Society will continue to create change that will set a path to long lasting growth and safety for all children.