Following a consultation on residential care reforms, children placed in residential care will no longer be routinely moved out of their local area.
New children’s homes will also be prevented from opening in areas where there are bail hostels, red-light districts or a high number of registered sex offenders. Homes already operating in those areas will have to comply with a tougher set of Ofsted inspections or face closure.
Recent cases have highlighted how vulnerable girls in children’s homes have been groomed by groups of men for sex. In some cases, staff knew what was going on but either thought the behavior was acceptable or the fault of the girls involved. Subsequent research has shown that many of these girls were placed in homes hundreds of miles away from their home towns, schools, friends and appointed social workers.
This prompted a ministerial review of children in residential care. The Minister for Children, Edward Timpson said the practice of routinely sending children away from their local area should end. He 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. In future, only senior officials in charge of children’s services will be able to place children out of their home area and only when they judge it to be the right decision… There will only be one individual in each local authority who is directly accountable for these decisions.”
England’s children’s homes care for 1,800 girls and over a recent five year period, there were 631 incidents of girls being sold for sex. Many children have been sent to children’s homes in areas of Northern England and the Midlands, where property prices are low. Last year in Rochdale, which has a population of 205,000, had 47 children’s homes; more than14 of the inner London boroughs with a population of 3.1 million.
In future, the “home area” will be judged as the local authority area itself and the local authority areas which immediately border it. Only children judged to be at risk if they stay local will be permitted to move farther away. Edward Timpson said that he would remove the “secrecy” by putting more information about the location and quality of children’s homes in the public domain.