New changes promise better protection for children in care
Almost two years ago we supported a parliamentary inquiry into the safeguarding of the thousands of children who go missing from care each year.
A big result of the inquiry is that many of its recommendations resulted in changes that just recently came in force in local authorities. We welcome these changes and want them to be promptly implemented.
What the report found
As the parliamentary inquiry reported, many of these children need help. Their report provided shocking evidence of how children, removed into care to protect them from abuse and neglect at family home, were persistently let down by professionals.
Not only was the true number of children missing from care not known to the local authorities, but the report revealed that many local authorities did not know that children were in their region, often due to children being placed in their area without their knowledge.
The report also showed that many professionals failed to see running away or going missing as a cry for help or an indicator that a child may be at risk of sexual exploitation or other horrible crimes. Instead, the behaviour was often seen as something that needed to be corrected and punished. In some cases professionals even saw children as ‘consenting’ to abusive relationships, choosing a ‘lifestyle’.
The children who went missing from care rarely reported receiving important, personal responses – such as listening to them, and recognising their experiences, wishes and feelings – from professionals.
Changes to improve care for looked after children
Two years after the report was published it is good to see that some of its key recommendations have resulted in changes to national and local polices aimed to improve responses to vulnerable children.
Staff better trained
The most important change relates to qualification of staff in children’s homes. From April, residential care staff and managers are required to complete a recognised qualification within a set time to ensure that they have knowledge and skills to support and look after children in their care.
Better data collection and multi-agency response
Revised statutory guidance on young runaways and children missing from home and care has now come into force. It requires that local authorities collect data about children who go missing from care even for short periods of time, not just about those who go missing for 24 hours or more. It also states that local authorities must offer return interviews with an independent professional to children who go missing from care.
Young people better supported to stay in care until they are ready to move on
Changes made to statutory guidance on care planning and transition to adulthood for care leavers have been amended to require directors of children’s services to ensure that robust processes are in place to scrutinise and challenge leaving care decisions of 16-17 year olds who have been voluntarily accommodated.
Notification system improvements
Children’s homes are now required to notify their local authority when children are admitted or leave the home
Improvements in responses when a child goes missing
Children’s homes are also now required to be much better prepared to respond to young runaways in a more positive way. They must have a ‘missing child policy’ in place and registered managers can now request a review of a child’s care plan where a child is frequently going missing or where there are other serious safeguarding issues.
Children’s homes in safer places
To keep vulnerable children safe, children’s home managers are now required to carry out an annual risk assessment of the area in which the home is located.
Seeing change for children in care
Although all these changes are now in force, it will take time for their effects to embed into practice.
These changes are just a beginning. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that all looked after children, not just those placed in children’s homes, receive the help and support they need.