Their move comes as an MPs’ inquiry starts this week into the growing trend of local authorities to ‘farm out’ vulnerable youngsters to homes far from their families, which they claim leaves them open to exploitation, theguardian.com reported.
The challenge to the increasing use of out-of-borough placements of children in care is being led by a father whose teenage son was sent to a home in the Midlands, 130 miles from where he lived in south London, where he is under the care of Bromley social services.
The man — who cannot be named as his son is the subject of a court care order — initially raised concerns after it emerged that three employees at the home were suspended and are being investigated by police for alleged sexual abuse. His request for his son to be moved to a London home on the grounds that the incident had left him traumatized was rejected.
He said, “There are other parents I’ve met across the country who also want their children moved to homes closer to the areas in which their friends and families live so that they can visit them more often and provide extra support. We face enough difficulties as it is, but having our children so far away from us makes thing much harder.”
The father claims that the manner in which Bromley social services have handled the sexual abuse incident demonstrates the problems of out-of-borough placements. He was formally notified about it 10 days after his son, who was not directly involved, spoke of it in a telephone call. It was another two weeks before a social worker visited from London. The teenager also missed out on eight months of education after being moved away from the capital.
The all-party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children and adults has initiated an inquiry into the use of out-of-borough placements. Figures that have already been collated show that the practice has increased by 77 percent since 2012, which equates to almost 4,000 children. This accounts for more than 60 percent of all children in care.
The group’s chair, Labour MP Ann Coffey, also recently surveyed all UK police forces about the use of vulnerable children by drugs gangs with county lines operations. Many cited evidence of the targeting of children in care, especially those living away from their home areas.
Coffey said, “When children are placed at a distance from their family and friends they become isolated, it increases their chances of going missing, and they are more prone to exploitation by sexual predators and criminal gangs. It’s also harder to rehabilitate them within the family and the community.”
According to Coffey, the root of the problem is the unequal geographical distribution of children’s homes, with more than half of them in just three regions. Many operators establish them in clusters, which makes them easier to manage and more profitable: Some charge up to £5,000 per week per child. Few local authorities run their own homes as they once did, so are forced to place children wherever there are vacancies.
Coffey added, “The private sector market place in social care is catastrophically failing children. The system is working in the interests of the providers but not for the children themselves. It is not fit for purpose.”
But Nadhim Zahawi, the minister for children and families, said, “Work is under way to help ensure better commissioning of placements. This includes providing funding through part of our £200-million children’s social care innovation program to projects that increase councils’ capacity so that fewer children are placed far away from home. We are also providing several local authorities with seed-funding to explore the possibility of setting up new secure provision where out-of-area placements are particularly common.”
A spokesman for Bromley Council said, “We cannot discuss the circumstances of individual children. In 85 percent of cases, we place children close to their homes. We would only place at a distance for specific reasons and in the best interests of the child.”
The south London father, who is hoping to assume full-time custody of his son next year, added, “We’re all trying to build relationships with our children and get our lives back on track. But how can you do this when you’re hundreds of miles apart?”