Urgent reforms to protect children in residential care homes from sexual exploitation and to overhaul the wider system have been announced today by Children’s Minister Tim Loughton.
The measures include more robust checks before children are placed in homes outside their home boroughs; overhauling the quality and transparency of data so there is a clear picture of children who go missing from care; and reviewing all aspects of the quality and effectiveness of children’s homes - including their management, ownership and staffing.
Ministers have also ordered the lifting of regulations which stop Ofsted telling police and other appropriate agencies the location of children’s homes - a key concern in keeping children in care fully protected.
The government has also today published a progress report on the national Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan published in November 2011 and ‘step-by-step’ guidance for frontline staff - which sets out ongoing work with the courts, police and social services to prosecute and jail abusers; protect young people at risk; and help victims of these appalling crimes get their lives back on track.
This action comes after a report published today by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz - ordered after the sentencing in May of 9 men who groomed and abused young girls in Rochdale.
Ministers asked her to report urgently on emerging findings from her ongoing Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups inquiry, including recommendations on specific risks facing looked-after children living in care homes.
Her report finds growing evidence that children in care are particularly vulnerable to child sexual exploitation - with a disproportionate number being groomed or sexually exploited, although the majority of known victims are outside the care system.
It finds there is a clear emerging picture that some residential homes are specifically targeted by abusers and that given the high turnover of young people in care, “there is a constant flow of vulnerable children for perpetrators to exploit”.
It finds evidence that some children who are being sexually exploited may “introduce” other children within homes to their abusers - where they are forced or threatened to bring other children when they meet their exploiters.
And it makes a series of recommendations to address serious weaknesses in how care homes report and react to children going missing; in the checks made before children are placed into care homes; and weaknesses in staff skills and management quality.
Her interim report with fuller findings will be published in September and her final report in autumn 2013. It also follows a damning report by the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Children Missing From Care published last month, which said there was a “scandal” in the care system and called for urgent action to address key failings.
Ministers accept recommendations in both reports about how to secure improvements and provide better support and safety in children’s homes.
This will build on Ofsted’s tougher new framework, introduced in April 2012, for the inspection of children’s homes that focuses far more strongly at whether a home has taken action to implement recommendations in previous reports, and whether improvements are flowing through in consequence.
Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:
These reports lift the lid on very serious weaknesses in the system. There are good children’s homes and excellent care workers but it is clear that far too many of the most vulnerable children in society are being exposed to harm and danger. It is completely unacceptable that existing rules are simply being ignored and that frankly, some local authorities and homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper ‘parent’.
We are setting out urgent, immediate steps to protect children in care and address all the weaknesses. These are big changes to a system which has been letting down too many children. The cost of care in a local authority children’s home is some £3,000 per resident week, and £2,600 in a private or voluntary home - so it is outrageous if they are not shielding young people from harm. We want to get rid of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture which sees residential care as a last resort, instead of protecting vulnerable young people and giving them the best possible start in life.
The immediate action announced today:
- Create a clear picture of children missing from care
Ministers are alarmed that there is no coherent set of figures for the number of children that go missing from care, which prevents children at risk being properly identified - and are clear that local agencies must be held accountable. We are setting up up a new expert group to develop a robust, transparent and high quality data system. This will resolve the huge discrepancies between the official local authority figures of children in care who go missing from care for more than 24 hours and incidents reported to and recorded by the police. The Department for Education has written to all local authorities asking them to immediately review their own data collections alongside local police figures.
- Ensure children’s homes are properly protected and located. Ministers have ordered immediate changes to regulations so that Ofsted can share information about the location of children’s homes with the police, and other relevant bodies as appropriate - a key criticism of the current system.
- Help children be located in homes nearer to their local area. Ministers are today announcing a `task and finish group’ to report urgently by September on tougher regulations and checks before any local authority can place a child outside their home borough.
Ministers accept there may be good reasons for placing a child or young person at some distance from their home area but argue it is difficult to accept that nearly half of all children in children’s homes benefit from such distant placements. Both reports are clear about the problems that can arise.
The government will consult on changes in the autumn.
The group will focus on:
- The dependence of some local authorities on out of area children’s homes, often at a considerable distance, in meeting the needs of a significant number of the most challenging children in their care. The group will be asked to consider how to ensure that there is much better scrutiny, planning and assessment of risks, before decisions are taken to place a child at a distance. This will include establishing how the placing authority should satisfy itself that the environment of the home will be appropriate for the child in question, and that they can reasonably be expected to be safe in the community within which they will be placed.
- Whether further changes to the care planning framework are required to ensure that local authorities will always respond appropriately when difficulties emerge in children’s placements - for example whether there is a role for the Independent Reviewing Officers in ensuring that the plan for the child is reviewed if there is an emerging pattern of going missing from their home and putting themselves at risk of sexual exploitation.
- The need for all children’s homes to work collaboratively with their local police forces and other local safeguarding services. Homes should have strong policies for preventing children from running away or from being sexually exploited but also for responding effectively when these crises do occur in children’s lives.
- The local authority’s responsibilities for monitoring the quality of the care in homes located in their areas and the steps they should take if they consider that a home is failing to offer children the supervision and support that they need.
- Taking forward work to develop “risk mapping” for those areas where there are high concentrations of children’s homes to assess the general safety of these communities as places for bringing up our most vulnerable looked after children - for example whether homes are located alongside hostels and other accommodation for adult offenders, or are in areas where there is known to be a high level of prostitution.
- Drive up quality and effectiveness of children’s homes.
Ministers are setting up a further expert working group that will have a broad remit to review and develop a clear action plan to drive up the quality of provision being delivered within children’s homes, including the qualifications and skills of the workforce. It will review questions relating to:
- The location of homes and models of ownership and commissioning practice.
- How homes can offer a more therapeutic environment to help children overcome their difficulties.
- What staff development is needed to manage children’s behaviour, including when it is appropriate to use restraint.
- The effectiveness of current arrangements to drive improvement across the sector.
The group will report to ministers by December, with a clear reform timetable.
Reforms to protect children in care from sexual exploitation Information about government reforms to protect children in care from sexual exploitation, and the report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
Tackling child sexual exploitation
Updates and progress reports on the national action plan for tackling child sexual exploitation.
Notes to editors
The Deputy Children’s Commissioner report is published tomorrow. It comes after the Education Secretary Michael Gove asked the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to produce an accelerated report on the emerging findings of its Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups. In particular, he asked the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to consider recommendations required to give better protection to children in care homes. The key findings are in Annex A. The main recommendations are in Annex B.
The All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Children Who Go Missing or Run Away from Care was published on June 18.
Education Secretary Michael Gove asked the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to produce an accelerated report on the emerging findings of its Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups. In particular, he asked the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to consider recommendations required to give better protection to children in care homes.
Wider child sexual exploitation
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s is nine months into a 2-year inquiry and is in the process of analysing the emerging evidence.
Significant general themes emerging at this stage include:
- gang and group associated child sexual exploitation is taking place across England
- gang and group associated sexual exploitation is being perpetrated by people of varying ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds
- in some areas agencies have a stronger focus on identifying group-associated child sexual exploitation, and others have a stronger focus on gang-associated child sexual exploitation
- some services are better able to identify gang-associated child sexual exploitation than others, and so even within a local area different services provide different intelligence on both victims and perpetrators
- children are being sexually exploited by gangs and groups made up of people who may be of the same or different, age, ethnicity, religion and social backgrounds to them
- children in care and children not in care are being sexually exploited. While the majority of children being sexually exploited are not in care, a disproportionate number are in care.
The full findings will be published in the interim report in September 2012.
Children in care
Key findings from the emerging evidence shows:
- Children in care, particularly in residential care, are more vulnerable to grooming and abuse and account for a disproportionate number of children known to be sexually exploited - although the majority of overall victims are outside the care system.
- Some residential children’s homes are being deliberately targeted by those who want to exploit young people. It says “given the nature of turnover of placements to exploit, there is a constant flow of vulnerable children for perpetrators to exploit”.
- Victims of sexual exploitation may “introduce” other children in the care system to their abusers - with clear evidence of coercion and threats if they do not “recruit” their peers. Local authorities have reported concerns about children in some homes going “missing together” and being particularly at risk of sexual exploitation.
- Children are expected to arrange their own travel back to some residential units late at night.
- Inconsistency in reporting and recording of incidents of children missing from care - with official figures only recording those missing for more than 24 hours, while emerging evidence shows that sexual exploitation victims may actually go missing for much shorter periods.
- Some care homes are not raising the alarm when boys go missing from residential units or are picked up by groups of older males. “Sexual exploitation is not something that is considered; this is particularly the case when boys are seen to be ‘exploring their sexuality’.”
- Over-16s housed in foyer, bed and breakfast and hostel accommodation are at “significant risk” - these are often “unstable placements” where they live with older adults and are at risk of sexual exploitation from both residents themselves and abusers targeting residents.
- Inconsistencies in quality of risk assessment; instability; and lack of choice in placements; lack of support for foster parents; a reduction in recognition of child sexual abuse in child protection plans; and an “inability to appropriately identify placement by type, specialism and geography”.
- Lack of skilled workers - with residential care staff only required to be qualified up to A-level standard and managers up to degree-level but with no requirement for qualifications to be in health, education or social care. The report says “it is of considerable concern that the workforce tasked with caring intensely for some of our most troubled children is one of the least qualified workforces in the social care sector”. It finds that “the majority of the staff who work with those in those units are not specialists working with highly troubled children and young people, nor in child sexual exploitation”. Staff support and training is “inadequate” and much provision does not link up with the wider support services.
Deputy Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations:
- Government should undertake a thorough examination of residential care, including the profile of children, location and type of homes, recruitment, qualification and training of staff, and analyses of how local authorities are meeting their duties under the sufficiency requirements.
- Government should amend the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 and related guidance to state that a child’s care plan should include a safety plan when the child/young person is at risk of or has experienced CSE. This should be based on a thorough assessment of need and explicitly address the risks the child faces, be negotiated with the child and engage family, supporting adults and, as appropriate, the police.
- Regulations should proscribe any child in care, or leaving care, from being placed in bed and breakfast accommodation.
- Amendment should be made to Regulation 33 of Children’s Homes Regulations, the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended by the running the home and appointed or Children’s Homes (Amendment) Regulations 2011). Monthly inspection visits to private children’s homes should be by a person independent of the organisation and approved by the local authority.
- Consideration should be given to current planning regulations in relation to children’s homes. Safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that children’s homes are not opened in areas that present a high risk to the children being placed. This must include checks on numbers of registered sex offenders in the area.
- The government should amend the Care Standards Act 2000 (Registration) (England) Regulations 2010 to allow Ofsted to routinely share its information about the location of children’s homes with the police.
- All references in guidance and regulation to ‘prostitution’ when speaking of children should be amended to ‘child sexual exploitation’. (For example Schedule 5 of the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended by the Children’s Homes (Amendment) Regulations 2011.
- Consideration should be given to amending Regulation 11(2)(d) of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010. Currently this requires authorities to notify the area authority where the child is to be placed. This could be strengthened by requiring the placing authority to consult with the area authority to assist their assessment that the placement is the most appropriate placement available and that it will meet the child’s needs identified in the care plan. This would enable the placing authority to establish, for example, if there is known intelligence locally of sexual exploitation associated with the children’s home or local area.
- Consideration should be given, in the National Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan, to the role of Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards in having oversight of:
1. The relationships between police and local authority children’s homes in the local area, so that intelligence about groups of exploiters in the area and support to staff and young people can be provided.
2. Children who go missing and children at risk of or who have experienced exploitation: ensuring analysis of information gathered through Runaway Children and Missing From Care (RCMFC) records.
3. In line with the 2009 statutory guidance on children who run away and go missing from care, regulations should be amended to ensure when children have run away from care, that all return interviews involve an independent person, preferably an advocate or trusted adult from outside the home. These should enable young people to talk about any concerns including about the home. The content should feed into local police intelligence about sexual exploitation. Police ‘safe and well’ interviews should be considered as well - with the young person’s agreement. Possibly through amendment to Sec 16 (4) (b) of the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended by the Children’s Homes (Amendment) Regulations 2011.
- The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 and related Guidance should be amended to ensure that a child’s Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should be informed when children run away and consider bringing forward the review. The IRO service should be informed about the pattern of absences or running away by children in care.
Urge the Government to give the follow issues due consideration:
- Whether there should be standard arrangements for recording incidents of children going missing, including from care and school; and equally standard recording of incidents where they affect those considered at risk of, or who have experienced, sexual exploitation.
- Whether specific changes are required to ensure that effective measures are in place to safeguard children aged 16 - 18 accommodated in foyers and hostels.
- Whether there should be an extension to the age limit from 16 years to 18 years within the provisions of the Child Abduction Act 1984 regarding the abduction warnings process and that these should be issued with or without parental consent, if deemed necessary.
- Whether amendments are required to the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 and related guidance to ensure that independent advocacy is available to all children in all children’s homes.