Some children in care are being placed in homes in “unsuitable and dangerous” areas, MPs have said.
A report from the Education Select Committee highlights one area where homes were more likely to be located near to other risks such as drug crime and registered sex offenders.
The government has recently introduced new area risk assessments to identify residential children’s homes in more dangerous areas and MPs have urged the government to monitor the impact of these closely.
MPs have also said that children in care should be found places in residential homes in their own areas and not be sent miles away by local authorities.
The report expresses “deep concern” about the number of children being placed in homes far from their own communities and families because of a lack of accommodation nearer to home.
It quotes figures from the Department for Education showing that of the 4,890 children living in children’s homes in England in March 2012, 46 per cent were living in homes out of their local authority area, and nearly one third (30 per cent) were living more than 20 miles from home. Also, 16 local authorities placed all of their children in care outside their own local authority area.
MPs found that children placed far from home are particularly at risk of slipping through the net.
The report adds: “They become unknown to the safeguarding services in the area where they are placed and also deprived of sufficient oversight and support from their responsible authority.”
MPs have now urged the government to consider a 20-mile limit on placements in a bid to encourage local authorities to develop more facilities.
Launching the report, Education Select Committee chairman Graham Stuart MP said: “We are deeply concerned about the number of children being placed in homes far from their own communities and families because of a lack of accommodation nearer to home. This should only happen where it is the right decision to best meet the needs of that child.
“It is also a matter of great concern that children are being placed in homes located in unsuitable and dangerous areas. The government must act if its latest reforms do not adequately address this problem.
“Linked to this we have also been shocked by what we have learned about the locations in which some children’s homes are sited. We suggest that the planning system may have a part to play here, but if the new area risk assessments do not bring about a clear improvement, then the government must act.”
During a visit to one area, the MPs were shown a risk map which illustrated “the way in which children’s homes are located in close proximity to numerous other risks such as drug crime, registered sex offenders and prison releases”.
The report adds: “Given the importance of this issue, we recommend that the government closely monitors the impact of the new risk assessments and how they are used and reports back to this committee within a year.”
Elsewhere, Mr Stuart called for a national strategy for care provision based on “better assessments of need where residential homes are seen a positive choice, rather than a last resort”.
The report also calls for better training and CPD within the workforce in children’s homes and a “national protocol” that allows children’s homes to deal with incidents of challenging behaviour while avoiding the “over-criminalisation” of children.
The report is available to download at www.parliament.uk/education-committee