Children’s Commissioner for England, Anna Longfield, has confirmed the care system is struggling to cope with the growing number of teenagers. The number of children in care aged 13 and over has risen 21 per cent since 2012/13; this compares with those children five years old or under which has dropped 15 per cent in the same period.
During 2017/18, one in four children in care were aged 16 or over, and two in five were between the ages of 10 and 15. According to the statistics, older children are six times more likely than those under 13 to be living in residential or secure children’s homes, with nearly half living in privately-run accommodation.
The Children’s Commissioner’s 2019 Stability Index found that teenagers in care are a lot more vulnerable than younger children. Compared with those who are 13 years old and under, teenagers in care are:
- Seven times more likely to have gone missing from home;
- Six times more likely to have experienced child sexual exploitation;
- Five times more likely to have been involved in gangs; and,
- Four times more likely to have been misusing drugs.
Additionally, older children in care are more likely to have vulnerabilities that require specialist or intensive support. Teenagers are 10 times more likely than younger children to have been attending a pupil referral unit, and 50 per cent more likely to have a statement of special education needs or an Education, Health and Care Plan.
Anne Longfield commented:
“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… and parents [are] unable to protect them.”
More than half of children in care have moved home at least once in 3 years
The report, which provides an annual measure of the stability of children’s lives in care in England, confirmed 52 per cent of children moved home at least once in three years; three in 10 moved at least twice, and one in 10 children in care moved four or more times.
The proportion of children experiencing several placement moves ranged from four per cent to 20 per cent across local authorities, while the proportion of children in care experiencing a mid-year school move ranged from four per cent to 22 per cent. According to the latest report, there has been a slight reduction in the proportion of children who have had a change of school during the academic year; from 13 per cent in 2016/17 to 11 per cent the following year.
During 2017/18, around one in 20 (3,200 children) experienced a home move, a school move as well as a change in their social worker. A further 13,840 children in care (roughly one in five) experienced two of these changes. From 2016/17 to 2017/18, there were 7,100 children who experienced all of these changes; calculating at around one in seven of those who were in care.
There were nearly 500 children who experienced multiple placement changes, a mid-year school move and numerous changes in their social worker during the 2017/18 period, and close to 4,500 children who experienced two of these changes.
Less than three in 10 children in care experienced no change of home, no school move and no change of social worker through the year, while only one in six did not experience any of these changes in a two-year period.
Change in social worker
Released on the 1 August 2019, this year’s Stability Index found more than 45,000 children in care (or roughly three in five) had experienced at least one change of social worker in the year, while more than 20,000 children in care experienced two or more changes. In the space of two years, more than half of children (55 per cent) experienced two or more changes of social worker, while 32 per cent experienced three or more.
The proportion of children experiencing several changes of social worker ranges from zero to 51 per cent. Children in care are more likely to experience multiple social worker changes in any one year in those local authorities that have:
- Higher rates of agency staff;
- Higher rates of social worker turnover; and,
- Higher social worker vacancy rates.
Anne Longfield concluded on the findings:
“There are an increasing number of teenage children in the care system and too many of them are ‘pin-balling’ around the system. In one local authority, 20% of the entire children’s services budget is being spent on just ten children. This is completely unsustainable.”
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