Craig Whittaker is the Member of Parliament for Calder Valley and 
Chair of the APPG Looked
After Children and Care Leavers

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 16.33.46More often than not, when
we hear about the care system, it is because children are being let down. So I
want to let you know about the work that has been going on quietly with
Ministers, MPs and officials to improve the support for vulnerable children in
the care system.

Last year, two cross-party
groups of MPs (The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Looked After Children and
Care Leavers, and The All Party Parliamentary Group on Runaways and Missing
Children and Adults) worked together to publish a report – supported by The
Children’s Society and The Who Cares Trust – which highlighted a number of
concerns about children who were going missing from care

There are just over 65,000
children in care in England. Most of these children live with foster families
but around nine per cent are placed in children’s homes. These children are
extremely vulnerable – the majority of them taken into care because of serious
abuse and neglect. Many have special educational needs or behavioural
difficulties that require specialist support. Many are placed in children’s
homes following numerous previous placement breakdowns.

Our report showed that
not only were children placed in homes that could not always provide the
specialist care that the children so desperately needed but that local
authorities were placing thousands of children miles away from their local
area, often contrary to the best interests of the child. The report showed that a
combination of poor decisions about placements and inadequate support in
children’s homes made children in care easy targets for grooming and sexual
exploitation. It also made them more likely to run away.

In rare circumstances –
such as where we need to protect a child from further abuse or trafficking – it
might be suitable to place a child outside their local area. But in most
instances, it makes it harder for children to get the support they need. And
evidence shows that being placed a long way from family and friends is often a
factor in causing children to run away.

Our report heard that
nearly a third of all children in foster care and almost a half of children in
children’s homes are placed outside of their local area. And 28 percent of
children placed in children’s homes were more than twenty miles from their area
local authority. A year on from our
report, the government has taken a number of welcome steps to protect and
improve the lives of children who live in care who need and deserve support.

The Government is
proposing to make local authorities scrutinise decisions about out of area
placements much more closely, so that this only happens where there is a clear
need to place a child at a distance from home – such as when a child who has
been trafficked needs to be far away from their traffickers. Local authorities will
also have to work with each other and consult before placing a child out of
area. This is so that local authorities know about things like whether
children’s homes have been targeted for grooming, for instance, before making a
decision to place a vulnerable child there.

The Government has also
set out new proposals to help protect and support children in care who go
missing. Something that care leavers always tell us is that if they left care
at 16 or 17 years old they often felt that this was too soon. Now there will be
greater scrutiny of decisions about leaving care to ensure that no 16 or 17
year old feels forced to move on before they feel ready. There will also be a
greater focus on the quality of care in care homes with an emphasis on better
training for care home staff to keep young people safe and respond to their
needs in a way that good parents would do.

These are changes that
are happening and will affect the lives of thousands of children. We hope these
changes will mean children who are in care can thrive and fulfil their
potential. My APPG and Ann Coffey
MP’s APPG joined forces and presented a case to government. This happened
because brave children came forward and told their stories; good police
officers, care home workers and social workers told us what needs to change and
charities like The Who Cares Trust and The Children’s Society worked together.

Ministers and officials
have listened and we now are at a place where children’s lives can be improved. Politicians don’t always
have a good story to tell – but sometimes Parliament and Government quietly gets
on and does the right thing.