Protection fear for looked-after children placed far from home


Placing children in residential care far from their home area is a strategy being used to break patterns of risky behaviour and sexual exploitation.

However, researchers have said that more needs to be done to ensure the safety of children who are placed far from home.

Furthermore, the research has been published as the government introduced new rules this month to stop councils “routinely” placing children miles away from home.

In 2012, almost 4,900 children were accommodated in residential children’s homes, with 46 per cent placed outside their local authority area.

Local authorities say they are taking this approach to stop risky behaviour, child sexual exploitation, offending behaviour, and involvement with gangs and guns.

The strategy is detailed in new research from the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) at the Institute of Education in London.

Other placements outside the local areas were aimed at securing specialist provision for children with complex disabilities or severe mental health issues that could not be met within the local authority.

Charlie Owen, a senior researcher with the TCRU, said: “A number of reports have expressed concern over the vulnerability of teenage girls being placed in children’s homes a long way from their communities.

“We found that local authorities accounted for out-of-area placements in terms of either meeting specialist needs or to move children from the local area to break the cycle of risky behaviour. However, more needs to be done to ensure the safety of these children a long way from home.”

New legislation comes into effect at the end of this month which will mean that only senior council officials in charge of children’s services will be able to place children out-of-area and “only when they judge it to be the right decision for a child to be moved away from their home area”.

The reforms will also mean that residential care homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson said: “It’s totally unacceptable for local authorities to routinely place children miles away from their homes for no good reason. Far too often an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture prevails, and I’m determined to tackle it.”

The TCRU report, which is part of the Department for Education-funded Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre’s work, also says that better systems of information sharing between placing and receiving authorities are needed so that “all parties are clear about where children are placed and respective roles and responsibilities for protecting and promoting their welfare”.

Elsewhere, it highlights resource issues for a wide range of organisations when children are placed far from home, including children’s services, schools, pupil referral units, the police, youth offending teams, health services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).


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