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Parliamentary inquiry reveals care system placing vulnerable children in great danger

MPs and peers call for urgent investigation into children’s homes

Children who go missing from care are being systematically failed and placed in great danger by the professionals who are there to protect them, according to a Parliamentary inquiry report published today.

The report, by two influential All Party Parliamentary Groups, calls for an independent investigation into children's homes in England and asserts that the system of residential care is "not fit for purpose" for children who go missing.

The findings come in the wake of cases of sexual exploitation, trafficking and other child abuse exposed in Rochdale and other parts of the country. The leader of Rochdale Council has said that children should no longer be sent to care homes in his borough because their safety is not being guaranteed.

The report by the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, reveals that children in care are three times more likely to run away than children who live at home, often placing themselves in great danger of being physically or sexually abused or exploited.

The main recommendations are:

The inquiry also highlights a lack of training for professionals, an over reliance on agency workers and poor quality placements in children's homes. One practitioner told the inquiry: "You can have someone looking after a young person, who the day before, their experience may have been working at a deli counter in Asda".

Ann Coffey MP, Chair of the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said:

"There is a scandal going on in England involving children missing from care – and until recent cases of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and other places put the spotlight on this issue – it was pretty much going unnoticed.

"This inquiry has revealed the widespread concern that what we have in place at the moment falls dramatically short of what is needed to protect some of society's most vulnerable children. We know that dangerous predators are exploiting large gaps in the system and targeting children.

"Our inquiry has demonstrated how the system is far from fit for purpose and needs an urgent rethink to address these failings."

There are 65,520 children in local authority care in England. Children's homes are often seen by social workers and other professionals as a "last resort" from troubled young people with several placements behind them. Children in children's homes are generally older, vulnerable and have more complex needs.

The two APPGs joined forces to launch an inquiry – supported by The Children's Society and The Who Cares? Trust - into the care and support provided for the thousands of children who run away or go missing from care every year. This included four oral evidence sessions, including one focusing on child trafficking and others issues around runaways.

The Children's Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said:

"It is unacceptable that some of this country's most vulnerable children are being completely let down by the very systems that should be there to protect them from these shocking crimes.

"Our own research shows that a quarter of the 100,000 children who run away from care or home each year are at serious risk of harm. It is critical that all areas of the country have a safety net in place, so that every time a child goes missing from care they are protected from sexual exploitation, trafficking and other shocking crimes."

The inquiry heard evidence from local authorities, service providers, specialist organisations, police, children and young people, Minister for Children and Families Tim Loughton MP and Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone MP. Panellists included Alex Cunningham MP, Paul Goggins MP, Dan Rogerson MP and Craig Whittaker MP.

The report can be downloaded here.