1st June 2018

Children’s Commissioner’s annual Stability Index for children in care warns thousands of vulnerable teenage ‘pinball kids’ are pinging around the care system

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today publishing her second Stability Index, an annual report which tracks the experiences of children in care. The Index gathers data from local authorities in England to assess how frequently children in care are ‘pinging’ around the care system – changing home, school or social worker over the course of a year.

This year’s Stability Index shows many children in care are receiving stable and consistent care but reveals, for the second year running, that thousands of children are still ‘pinging’ around the system, changing homes, schools or social worker. Almost 2,400 children changed home, school and social worker over the last twelve months and, looking at data across two years, over 3,000 children had to move home four or more times. Over three years, around 2,500 children moved home five or more times.

The report also shows just how disruptive changing school can be: around 4,300 children in care moved school in the middle of the year, and their new school was 24 miles away on average. Meanwhile around 400 children who moved school ended up missing a whole term as a result.

The research suggests that older children – especially those entering care from the age of 12 to 15 – are most at risk of instability, and may need extra support to prevent placements breaking down. It also highlights the importance of getting children in care into the best schools: children at poor-performing schools are more likely to experience a school move, and less likely to move to a better school. By comparison, those in good schools are less likely to move, and when they do it is usually to another good school.

Stability is important for any child, and unwanted moves or school changes and the disruption they can bring can be particularly difficult for children in care. Stable relationships and a secure environment provide a sense of belonging and identity. Where there is instability relationships with trusted adults and other children suffer, succeeding at school becomes more difficult and vulnerability increases, leading some children to fall through the gaps and others open to exclusion, exploitation and abuse.

The Children’s Commissioner created the annual Stability Index last year to encourage councils to hold themselves to account for children moving around the system and to work towards improving the system and ultimately the lives of children in care.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, commenting on today’s report said:

“Every day I hear from ‘pinball kids’ who are being pinged around the care system when all they really want is to be settled and to get on with normal life. These children need stability, yet far too many are living unstable lives, in particular children entering care in their early teens. This puts them at greater risk of falling through the gaps in the education system and opens them up to exploitation by gangs or to abuse.

“It is very concerning that the number of children having to move around the system has hardly changed over the last year. Over one in five children in care are not in the good or outstanding schools they should be, and I am worried that the system has given up on the hundreds of children bouncing around from one poor school to another. I want all local authorities to make reducing instability a priority and to measure it. I would also like to see Ofsted assessing the stability of children in care as part of their inspections and for the Department for Education to start asking for data on this in their annual returns from Local Authorities.

“The care system does work for many thousands of children but our ambition should be for every child growing up in care to have the same chances to live happy, healthy and rewarding lives as any other child. We put that at risk if we are expecting some children to constantly change school and home.”

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