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Criminal Care? · 4 Dec 2020

A ‘broken’ market is failing children in care

Crest Advisory has published a report on looked after children and county lines, which echoes findings in our own Howard League report earlier this year on the interplay between child criminal exploitation and residential care.

In particular, the Crest report has found that a growing number of looked after children are being placed in care settings which do not protect them from criminal exploitation – indeed, if anything some placements make some children even more vulnerable to exploitation by ‘county lines’ gangs.

At the root of this is what Crest describes as a ‘broken’ market for children’s social care placements – what one director of children’s services described to us as a ‘Wild West’ market. As both the Howard League has found and Crest reports, there is a shortage of suitable placements close to home for vulnerable adolescents, meaning they are often placed in settings perhaps hundreds of miles from home and/or in unregulated settings.

A national scandal

It is not enough to leave the provision of care to market forces, or expect local authorities – already struggling with growing numbers of children in care and pressure on budgets even before the pandemic – to wrest control of the situation. It is a national scandal that children in care are being failed in this way.

There is a growing chorus for action and all eyes are on the government’s commitment to hold an independent Care Review. The Crest report comes out a week after a significant intervention by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, who spelt out her vision for care and for the forthcoming Review in a landmark speech.

Although Anne Longfield’s speech did not specifically mention the ‘market’ in children’s social care, her call for a national care system which raises standards and provides leadership implicitly criticises the ungoverned growth of the market. And if anyone doubts this, you only need to read this concerning report into private provision from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner published a month ago.

Leaving vulnerable children to the mercies of a broken market is unacceptable.

Andrew Neilson


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