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Alex MP calls for investigation into children’s homes failing to protect missing children

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham is calling for an independent investigation into children’s homes in England as a new report reveals that residential care is “not fit for purpose” for children who go missing.

Alex was part of a Parliamentary inquiry panel which today publishes a report revealing that some children who go missing from care are being systematically failed and placed in great danger.

The findings of the report, by two influential All Party Parliamentary Groups, come in the wake of horrific cases of sexual exploitation, trafficking and other child abuse exposed in Rochdale and other parts of the country.

The report by the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, reveals that children in care are three times more likely to run away than children who live at home, often placing themselves in great danger of being physically or sexually abused or exploited.

Yet society – including many professionals – so often sees them as “troublesome”, a “nuisance” and “drain on resources” – rather than victims.

Recommendations in the report include an independent investigation into children’s homes in England, which are failing to manage and protect children who run away or go missing. This is despite spending £1 billion a year[i]on just under 5,000 children cared for in children’s homes, averaging £200,000 a child. Children’s homes are often seen by social workers and other professionals as a “last resort” from troubled young people with several placements behind them. Children in children’s homes are generally older, vulnerable and have more complex needs.

Urgent action is also recommended on “out of borough placements”, where children are sent to live hundreds of miles from home. Half of all children in children’s homes (46 per cent) live outside their own local authority, despite evidence that this is often a major factor in causing them to run away. One local authority placed every single child in its care outside its boundary.

The inquiry also highlights a lack of training for professionals, an over reliance on agency workers and poor quality placements in children’s homes. One practitioner told the inquiry: “You can have someone looking after a young person, who the day before, their experience may have been working at a deli counter in ASDA”.

Alex MP said:

“This inquiry has exposed gaping gaps in the very systems designed to help and support these often incredibly vulnerable children. This is completely unacceptable and needs addressing urgently. Our inquiry is calling for an independent investigation into what is going wrong – and what needs to be done to make it fit for purpose.”