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Call for new care system

The UK’s care system is unfit for purpose. Instead of protecting vulnerable teenagers, the system is handing over some children to criminals and abusers by moving them away from their families and communities, moving them too frequently from placement to placement and continuing to place them in accommodation that puts them at risk of harm – sometimes alongside adults and those involved with drugs and crime. That’s according to a Commission on Young Lives, chaired by Anne Longfield, former Children’s Commissioner for England. She launched the year-long Commission in September.

She said: “A children’s social care system that is supposed to protect vulnerable teenagers is frequently putting them in even greater danger. Often, we may as well be handing over children directly to ruthless gangs and criminals. It is unfit for purpose.

“We know the number of vulnerable teenagers at risk of exploitation entering the care system is becoming older, with more complex and expensive needs, and growing. We also know this is putting an enormous strain on the whole children’s social care system. The recent horrific murders of two young children show the tragic consequence of a child protection system stretched to its absolute limit.

“Resetting children’s social care in this new offer for teenagers will require determined action and some funding, but it is clear there are huge benefits not only to those vulnerable young people who need protection, but also to the public purse.

“We need a new offer for vulnerable teenagers in care and on the edge of care, and this report provides one.”

Social services’ caseloads are increasing, and the costs of care are increasing, as ten to 15-year-olds become the fastest growing group of children entering care and 16-and-17-year-olds with acute needs now make up more than a fifth, 23pc of children in care. With the average costs of care for many of these children at £200,000 per year, the cost of crisis care is escalating, the report says.

Alongside the report, the Commission is publishing Freedom of Information (FoI) data from 22 boroughs in London, where there is a particularly chronic shortage of care places for teenagers. The data shows how hundreds of children in care in London are being placed ‘out of borough’ and into semi-independent accommodation, often unregulated, unsuitable and a magnet for criminal and sexual exploiters, the Commission says.

The Commission heard evidence that black boys, who are already disproportionately affected by gang criminal exploitation, are often receiving different services, including police responses, and black teenage boys are less likely to be seen as victims, more likely as offenders.

The Commission already has stated that the covid pandemic provided new opportunities for the criminal exploitation of children who are vulnerable as a result of greater exposure to domestic violence, parental mental health problems and addiction issues during lockdown.

You can read the 55-page report, ‘Out of Harm’s Way: A new care system to protect vulnerable teenagers at risk of exploitation and crime’ at https://thecommissiononyounglives.co.uk/.


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