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.
A report out today by the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield finds that 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.
The Stability Index launched in 2017 shines a light on the number of times children in care move home placement, school or social worker.
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 (6 times more likely), going missing from home (7 times more likely), gangs (5 times more likely), trafficking (12 times more likely) and child drug misuse (4 times more likely).
Older children and teenagers who enter care also experience much higher levels of instability: they are around 80% more likely (compared to the national average) to experience two or more changes of home within a year.
“There are an increasing number of teenage children in the care system and too many of them are ‘pin-balling’ around the system, changing home and family, school and social worker. Often they have the most complex and expensive needs. In one local authority, 20% of the entire children’s services budget is being spent on just ten children. This is completely unsustainable.” says Anne Longfield
“It is clear that we have a care system which is playing catch up. The new norm is shifting so that fewer babies and very young children are being taken off parents who cannot cope. Instead it is teenagers who are being taken into care because they are experiencing issues such as criminal or sexual exploitation, going missing from home, and parents being unable to protect them.
“The result is a care system that is struggling to cope and which in turn is not providing the stability that many highly vulnerable children need. We should be alarmed that one in ten children in care moved home four or more times in three years. These children are being denied the chance to put down roots, to feel part of a family and to settle at school. It is not surprising that they are often the ones most at risk of exploitation.
“All children in care have a right to expect that the state does all it can to improve their chances of growing up in stable and loving environments.”