An inquiry led by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked after Children and Care Leavers has delivered a devastating report on the failings of children's homes in particular and treatment of children in care in general.
How many instances are there of children in the care system going missing each year? The Department of Education estimate 930, the police estimate 10,000.
The report says:
During the course of the Inquiry, the panel was told of serious shortcomings in the data collected on children who run away from care. The children’s minister, Tim Loughton MP, admitted that it was impossible to know the true extent of the problem as the data collected by police, care services and Ofsted was “raw and erratic".
Indeed, the Department for Education recorded only 930 instances of children going missing from care last year, whilst police data showed an estimated 10,000 individual children going missing from care in a year. This is a startling discrepancy and severely hampers agencies’ and professionals’ ability to effectively intervene and protect vulnerable children.
So what is to be done about it? Usually the response is to blame "lack of resources" and suggest that increased public spending is the answer. This report can hardly do that. £1 billion a year of taxpayers money is spent on just under 5,000 children cared for in children’s homes – so the cost averages £200,000 per child. The report says that there should be an "independent investigation" of the children's homes. Ofsted have been failing to carry out a robust job:
Ofsted should not be allowed to give a ‘good’ inspection report to a home where there have been hundreds of missing incidents and more weighting should be given to the management of missing incidents in Ofsted’s inspections.
The report says “out of area placements” should be reduced. They probably should be – although there are sometimes valid reasons for taking children a long distance from their families.
Quite extraordinarily the police are not told where children's homes are. The report says: "Barriers which stop the police from being informed of the names and addresses of all children’s homes in their area must be overcome." Ofsted say they would be happy to but that a change in the law would needed.
What is missing from the report is that the number of children in children's homes could be reduced if more children were placed for adoption and that of the children that have to be in care fewer are in children's homes rather than placed with foster carers.
I'd like to see another report from them investigating what could be done to keep the number of children in children's homes down to the minimum necessary.