Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Tuesday December 24th) publishing a report revealing thousands of children in the care system are living many miles away from family and friends. The report, ‘Pass the parcel: children posted around the care system’, shines a light on the experiences of children in care who are moved ‘out of area’ – away from their home boroughs where family and friends live.
The report shows that at 31st March 2018, four in ten children in care in England were living ‘out of area’, with over 11,000 children living more than 20 miles from their home postcode. There were over 2,000 children living 100 miles away from their home postcode and almost a thousand children living over 150 miles away from the area they would call home.
It also reveals there has been a 13% rise in the number of children in care living ‘out of area’ over the last four years, meaning an increasing number of the most vulnerable children in England are living in places disconnected from their support networks of family and friends. Often these moves are being made without advance warning or preparation. The children most likely to live ‘out of area’ are aged 13 or over.
The report shows that particular areas take on disproportionate numbers of children from other areas. For example, for every one child Kent and Lincolnshire placed out of their area in 2017/18 they have 4 children placed in their area by other local authorities. The three local authorities that send most children out of their areas are Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Tower Hamlets – all London boroughs.
The report makes clear that there are some occasions when children need to be moved ‘out of area’, particularly when they are at risk from gangs, criminal exploitation or violence in their local area. Often however, it is simply because there is nowhere suitable for them to live locally. Numbers of older children going into care have risen year on year, leaving councils without enough places for them to live, and many of these children end up going to live in children’s homes run by private companies in cheaper areas.
The report also shows that children who are moved ‘out of area’ are more likely to be living in a children’s home or residential care, therefore missing out on a fostering place and the family structure that can bring. Those living out of area are also more likely to be moved around, increasing instability in their lives and making it harder to do well at school or settle. Often it is these children who are most open to exploitation.
The Commissioner’s Office has spoken with children living ‘out of area’. One child described feeling like a ‘parcel’ being passed around, while others are moved so far from the place they know that they said they don’t even know where they are on a map. While some of the children talked about the advantages of being placed away from home, felt they were getting the right help and shared positive stories about their lives in care, other children told us they feel they have little or no say over decisions made about them.
“I feel like a parcel getting moved around all the time, getting opened up and sent back and moved on to somewhere else.” – Teenage girl in care, over 100 miles from ‘home’
“I’d never heard of this area.” – Teenage boy in care, around 75 miles from home
“I feel isolated. I don’t even know where I am … you feel like you have no-one” – Teenage girl in care
“I don’t even know where I am on the map” – Teenage girl in care, around 80 miles from ‘home’
“I never unpack cos I know I’ll be passed on somewhere else in a few weeks” – Teenage girl in care
The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, is calling on the new Government to meet its manifesto commitment for a wide-ranging, independent review into the children’s social care system and make improving the experiences of children in care a priority. The review should specifically look at children living out of area. It should explore how greater weight can be given to the long-term emotional needs of children in care, in addition to their immediate safety, and how children can meaningfully contribute to decisions made about them.
The Commissioner 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.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, commenting on today’s report, said:
“For most of us, Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends, yet many children in care are living many miles away from the place they call home because councils have nowhere suitable for them to live. 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.”