The Government is quite right to seek to reduce the number of children in care by increasing the number placed for adoption. But they should also improve the outcomes for those who remain in care. For instance, being shunted between foster carers should be kept to a minimum. The league tables increase the accountability for how local councils perform on this.
Today the nation's attention is focused on the minority of children in care ("Looked After Children") who are not with foster carers but in the institutional care of children's homes. This is due to the report (£) in The Times about "organised networks" of men causing hundreds of girls in children's homes to be sexually abused. Two girls – one from Rochdale and another from Manchester – have died.
The indication that local councils showed a lack of rigour in tackling the problem due to politically correct "sensitivities" about the predominant ethnic background of the perpetrators exacerbates the scandal.
Yet there is a wider point. The number of children in children's home should be kept to a minimum. As I have pointed out before this would not only save money but also be much better for the children's prospects. Some children currently in children's homes are so unruly that foster carers couldn't cope but not all or even most are like this. That was certainly the conclusion I came to after visiting a children's home in my ward (which we have now closed.) There should be a presumption that children in mainstream schooling should not be in children's home. There should also be flexibility about paying extra for those foster carers willing and able to cope with "challenging" placements.
The Times report says:
In 2008 a meeting of Rochdale’s safeguarding children board was informed that sexual exploitation was “a major issue” for the town. Members were told: “Local authorities close to Rochdale, ie, Oldham, Blackburn, Blackpool, Calderdale, Kirklees, Bradford and Sheffield, have also been dealing with similar problems.”
These are overwhelmingly councils with an above average proportion of children in care (see Table LAA1) – often far more. The national average is 59 per 10,000 children. That is the number in Sheffield. In Rochdale it is 93 per 10,000. In Manchester it is 142. For Oldham it is 61. In Blackburn 96. In Blackpool it is 136. In Calderdale it is 70. In Kirklees it is 62. In Bradford it is 69.
Then there is the proportion of children in care who are actually in children's homes – see Table LAA3 for the most recent figures available which are from 2009. At that time the average was 10%. But there is wide variation. Some of the councils mentioned are on or below average but others are above. Blackpool has 12% of its "Looked After Children" in children's homes as does Manchester. Calderdale has 13%.
The higher these numbers the greater the potential for the shocking abuse we read about this morning.