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Number of older children going into care is damaging stability of the system

Number of teenagers in care has risen by 21 per cent in five years

The profile and needs of children in care has changed over the last five years, driven by a growing share of older children and teenage care entrants who have more complex needs and potentially more expensive living arrangements. They are six times more likely than children under 13 to be living in residential or secure children's homes, and nearly half are living in privately-run accommodation.

This is one of the findings of the 2019 Stability Index, an annual measure of the stability of the lives of children in care in England, published by Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England. For the first time, the Index publishes stability figures for each council.

It shows how the number of teenagers (aged 13 or over) in care rose by 21 per cent between 2012/13 and 2017/18, while the number of 0-5 year olds fell by 15 per cent, and how there has been a large increase in the number of over 16s entering care during the year. This number grew by 25 per cent between 2013/14 and 2017/18 – much higher than for any other age group. As a result, nearly one in four children in care (23 per cent) is now over 16. A further two in five (39 per cent) are aged 10-15.

These changes over the last five years have transformed the children's care model from one based on very young children living in foster homes, to one where more and more older children are entering care and needing more specialist homes. These are teenagers who are significantly more likely to have the following issues flagged up by social workers: child sexual exploitation (six times more likely), going missing from home (seven times more likely), gangs (five times more likely), trafficking (twelve times more likely) and child drug misuse (four times more likely).

Older children and teenagers who enter care also experience much higher levels of instability: they are around 80 per cent more likely (compared to the national average) to experience two or more changes of home within a year.

The Children's Commissioner is today warning that councils and the Government have yet to catch up with this new 'normal', which is contributing to instability in the care system.

The Children's Commissioner's recent work on local authority spending on children has revealed the costs to the system – with councils spending increasingly high amounts on a very small number of children with acute needs. A quarter (25 per cent) of the amount councils spend on children now goes on the 1.1 per cent of children who need acute and specialist services – such as children in care. In one local authority looked at by the Children's Commissioner, ten children are costing 20 per cent of the entire children's services budget. These children tend to be the older children going into care in their teens.

This year's Stability Index reveals that overall, at a national level, most rates of instability have not fallen since last year's 2016/17 report. In 2017/18, one in ten children in care experienced two more home moves during the year, one in ten moved school in the middle of the school year, and just over one in four experienced two or more changes of social worker.

The report also shows that:

For the 2019 Stability Index, click here.