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Are the children safe ‘in care’?

Young couple arranges guardianship of little girl. Registration of guardianship.

If the court decides that a child cannot live safely with their family, they are placed in the care of the local authority. The theory being if a parent cannot keep a child safe then the local authority must do that. A recently published report from the Department of Education has called this into question.

The government report had in fact been completed two years ago, but refused to provide a copy of the report despite requests. The report has finally been provided following a charity, Article 39, obtaining a ruling requiring the report to be shared.

The report makes grim reading for those young people in the ‘care system’ as it analysed the serious incident notifications to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

Serious concerns

For the period June 2018 to June 2020 there were 89 incident reports covering a wide age range (6-18) with the largest number of reports for the 16-18 age group. 20 of the notifications related to deaths of children in care and 69 of the reports related to serious harm suffered by a young person in care.

Seven young people took their own life. Four young people attempted that. Eleven young people were alleged victims of sexual assault. Thirteen young people suffered abuse by an adult.

It is perhaps not a surprise that the government had not voluntarily disclosed the report as it raises a number of questions as to whether the ‘care system’ is functioning properly and whether the young people within it can access the support that they clearly need.

As OFTED reported last year the lack of suitable accommodation, and the need to find placements quickly, mean local authorities often struggle to plan for and meet their legal duty to offer sufficient accommodation for children in need of care. This is a topic that the courts are grappling with on a daily basis with one reported case last year identifying that 62 vulnerable young people were vying for just two spaces in specialist accommodation. Mr Justice Francis described it as a national scandal.

This week is National Care Leaver week, and although we rightly look to celebrate all care leavers, surely it is now time to care about the system that is supposed to serve them. It’s more vital than ever to ensure they have access to the support and opportunities they need and that the system is fit for the purpose it was intended.