8 Jun 2015

Hundreds of children in care in Greater Manchester are being moved from their local communities to new homes miles from friends, family and support workers, The Children’s Society has found.

Young people told the national charity they had been left isolated, while others were forced to switch schools after being moved.

Some are moved for their own safety because they are at risk of abuse or neglect, but in other cases their local councils struggle to find them somewhere closer to home.

Of the 5,122 children in care in Greater Manchester as of September 2014, 1,931 – nearly 4 in 10, had been placed outside their local authority area according to figures revealed following Freedom of Information requests by The Children’s Society. 

More than one-fifth of the young people placed out of area had been moved to new foster homes or children’s homes more than 20 miles outside their home borough.

The Children’s Society wants to work with the 10 councils in the city region to ensure young people are only moved ‘out of borough’ when this is really necessary – and that when this happens the support they need to settle and thrive moves with them.

It wants young people to be given as much notice as possible of any move, and for them to be supported to stay in touch with family and friends where appropriate.

On Saturday June 6 the national charity revealed the findings as it launched Handle with Care, its first Greater Manchester-wide campaign, with a Day of Action. 

From 11am-2pm staff volunteers and supporters were stationed across the city region gathering signatures for a petition to be handed in to town halls and raising awareness of the issues through a game of ‘Out of Area Twister’.

Neelam Mahmood, now 21, remembers the disruption caused by 'six or seven' moves to new foster families. Neelam says a move from Manchester to Whitefield near Bury at the age of 15 had been particularly difficult.

'I was only told I was moving on the day and I only had bin bags for my belongings,' said Neelam, who now lives in Hulme, Manchester.

'I didn’t know the area and it was harder to see my mum and dad and three sisters because of the extra distance.  I didn’t always have enough credit on my phone to call them.

'It took an hour and a half and two buses to get to school back in Manchester so I stopped going.

'I ended up depressed and began drinking heavily to cope. I’d go missing for two or three days at a time and end up sofa surfing.

'It was horrible. Councils need to offer placements closer to where children live and when they can’t do that they should do more to support them in the new area.'

The Children’s Society’s research, including focus groups with young people, also found some did not have as much contact with support staff following a move out of borough.  They were not always given the chance to take part in Children in Care Councils (1) which are supposed to ensure they have a say in local decisions about care.

The charity has drawn up recommendations for the 10 Greater Manchester councils aimed at improving the support they offer for children placed out of borough.

They include:

• Giving young people at least a month’s notice of any planned move, and taking into account education and exams – the 2013 National Children’s Monitor survey found more than one-fifth of children who had moved placements were only told on the day of the move.
• Ensuring young people can stay in touch with and meet family and friends where appropriate, and attend Children in Care Councils in their home area - with help with travel expenses available.
• Providing a Welcome Pack containing information about their new area, including train and bus timetables and recommending safe and affordable routes for when they return home.
• Keeping care plans up to date, including by ensuring contact with professionals including social workers, advocates (2), independent reviewing officers (3) and independent visitors (4) is discussed with the young person, agreed and maintained.
• Helping young people with the move by providing luggage, boxes and help with packing.

Rob Jackson, Area Director for The Children’s Society in Greater Manchester said:

'We all remember the worries we faced when growing up but these are often magnified for children in care, many of whom will have had a difficult start in life.

'Losing contact with family and friends and moving home and school would be hard for any young person, but those in care also often receive help from professionals in overcoming the challenges they face.

'We are concerned that this vital network of support is not always being maintained in Greater Manchester when young people are moved outside their home borough.

'Through Handle with Care we want to work with local councils to ensure that this support is there when a move like this cannot be avoided.  We want Greater Manchester councils to set the gold standard for other authorities across the UK to follow.'

To sign the petition visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk/handlewithcare

On March 31, 2014, there were 68,840 looked after children in England, of whom, 25,030 – more than a third – were placed outside their council area.  Nearly 10,000, around 13 per cent, were placed more than 20 miles from home.

Media enquiries


For more information, contact Rob Devey, north area communications officer on 0161 763 2172 or at rob.devey@childrenssociety.org.uk

Notes to editors


Definitions

1) Children in Care Councils: There is a Children in Care Council in each local authority area. They are a group of young people who are in care in that area. The Children in Care Council aims to give them a say on the local care system and about things that matter in their lives.

2) Advocate: Children in the care system are entitled to independent advocates who consult with them on matters affecting their lives to try to ensure choices are not made for them without their consent. The Children’s Society has independent advocates in Greater Manchester.

3) Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO): IROs chair reviews for children living in children’s homes or foster care. Although employed by the council they are supposed to be independent. Their role is to make sure the decisions made are in their best interests of young people and follow their care plan.

4) Independent Visitor: Children in care are entitled to an independent visitor whose role is to befriend and advise them and contribute towards their social, emotional and educational development. The Children’s Society has independent visitors in Greater Manchester.

The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life. For more information visit: childrenssociety.org.uk

In Greater Manchester, The Children’s Society provides children’s rights and advocacy services for young people in care in Oldham and Rochdale.  We provide support for children who are at risk of going missing from home in Manchester, Salford, Oldham and Rochdale.  We offer counselling for children affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse in Manchester, Oldham and Bury. We have a Manchester-based programme which supports young refugees and asylum-seeking children throughout Greater Manchester.  We run six children’s centres in Oldham.  And we have eight charity shops, raising much-needed funds for our important work.  Last year we worked with more than 6,500 children in Greater Manchester.