1. ITV Report

'Scandalous' level of care for runaway children

Today's report comes from the all-party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children and adults Photo: ITV News

MPs are calling for an investigation into England's children's homes which, they say, are failing to manage and protect youngsters who run away or go missing.

It follows a report out today by the charity Childrens' Society and the All-party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers which finds:

  • There are 65,520 children in local authority care in England
  • An estimated 100,000 children run away each year
  • They either go missing from care or their own homes

The report calls for urgent action to prevent children being sent to live in areas up to hundreds of miles from their family, which is believed to be a major factor in causing some of them to run away.

The number of childrens' homes rated "inadequate" by OFSTED has gone up significantly, ITV News has learned.

ITV News' Social Affairs Editor Penny Marshall spoke to Luke Rodgers who ran away after being relocated to a care home 40 miles from home.

Labour MP Ann Coffey, chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for runaway and missing children and adults, says the issue of children who go missing is a "scandal".

There is a scandal going on in England involving children missing from care and until recent cases of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and other places put the spotlight on this issue, it was pretty much going unnoticed. This inquiry has revealed the widespread concern that what we have in place at the moment falls dramatically short of what is needed to protect some of society's most vulnerable children. We know that dangerous predators are exploiting large gaps in the system and targeting children. Our inquiry has demonstrated how the system is far from fit for purpose and needs an urgent rethink to address these failings.

– Ann Coffey MP

The report calls for the following action:

  • An end to children being sent to live in areas up to hundreds of miles from their family
  • A scorecard system to rate local authorities
  • An end to barriers which prevent police knowing the location of children's homes
  • A new system for reporting runaways from care

Matthew Reed, chief executive of charity The Children's Society, said:

It is unacceptable that some of this country's most vulnerable children are being completely let down by the very systems that should be there to protect them from these shocking crimes. Our own research shows that a quarter of the 100,000 children who run away from care or home each year are at serious risk of harm. It is critical that all areas of the country have a safety net in place, so that every time a child goes missing from care they are protected from sexual exploitation, trafficking and other shocking crimes.

The education watchdog Ofsted admitted the current system was currently failing some vulnerable children and during inspections of children's homes it regards the issue of missing children as one of the main indicators of the quality of care. It added:

The inquiry rightly highlights the barriers which prevent us sharing information about the location of children's homes with local police forces. The regulations in force specifically prohibit us from sharing that information with anybody except local councils. We agree that this is something that the Government needs to consider changing.