QUESTION: Where are they all disappearing to?
By Marco Giannangeli and Sonia Poulton
THE number of children who vanish from care homes has risen to record numbers, as local authorities across England and Wales continue to flout warnings.
A damning report by MPs earlier this year highlighted the scandal of thousands of youngsters across England and Wales, some as young as eight years old, who go missing shortly after reaching care.
The report, described as a “watershed” by campaigners, revealed that most local authorities have no clear idea how many children have absconded because of “patchy record keeping”.
According to Ofsted, police have dealt with a record 11,900 cases linked to missing children in the 12 months up to April this year, compared to 10,000 over the same period the year before – a rise of 19 per cent.
However, in 2010-11 local authorities reported only 920 instances of missing children from care homes.
Worryingly most of the care home facilities are still given “good” ratings following Ofsted inspections.
Many children scarred by abuse are feared to become targets of sexual predators after they abscond.
While most are British, a minority are trafficked to the UK from abroad to work in the sex industry or as slave labour in sweatshops and cannabis farms, and feel pressured to escape and fulfil their bond with underworld gangsters.
The problem is made worse by the fact that almost half the children are being placed into care homes outside their home areas, giving them an extra temptation to run away. Despite warnings contained in July’s All-Party Parliamentary Group report, entitled Children Who Go Missing, many councils still don’t keep proper records.
In a survey of 20 local authorities conducted by the Sunday Express, just two – Devon and Cornwall – could pinpoint how many children had gone missing from care home facilities.
Last night the charity the Children’s Society revealed that only 19 out of 130 local authorities had responded to its proposals of a new standardised charter which would unify how figures are calculated.
Campaign director Lily Caprani said: “This is a very worrying situation. We are particularly worried by the high number of children who are sent to care homes away from their own local authority.
“July’s findings were a real watershed. We must assume that this very serious problem of children not being cared for properly by those very care homes that are supposed to keep them safe has been going on for some time, but went undetected because the figures just aren’t properly collated. Children that go missing from care are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other shocking crimes.”
There are 65,000 children in care in England. According to recent figures, the cost of servicing those who run away has reached a staggering £82million a year.
Andy McCullough, head of UK policy for the charity Railway Children, said: “What is needed is someone in an overseeing role, such as a Children’s Commissioner, who can ensure that we know how many children go missing from care.”
Source: Daily Express
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