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Criminal Care? · 23 Sep 2019

Children going missing and the links to criminalisation

Welcome back to our Criminal Care? blog, which has enjoyed a break over the summer. We hope to blog soon about an exciting new publication we are launching very shortly, but in the meantime this is an opportunity to catch up on what has been happening elsewhere.

Last week the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults published an important final report on its Inquiry into children and young people who go missing from out-of-area placements.

The Howard League gave evidence to the inquiry, which Claire blogged about earlier in the year. We also participated in a roundtable discussion in Parliament.

The Inquiry found that more than four out of ten looked-after children are in placements out of area, and the proportion is growing since the APPG first looked at this issue in 2012. Nearly two-thirds of children living in residential care are now placed outside of their home areas.

Data collection has improved. The number of children going missing from placements, including missing from out-of-area placements, continues to increase – as does the frequency of missing episodes. While to some extent that may reflect the changes to data collection, it is nonetheless a worrying trend.

Crucially, the Inquiry found that children are not being consulted or informed before they are moved out of area. Not only does this increase their vulnerability but it can also contribute towards why they go missing in the first place. And as we outlined in our own evidence, there are clear links between going missing and being criminalised whilst in residential care.

Nearly two-thirds of children living in residential care are now placed outside of their home areas

The report makes a number of key recommendations, including a call for the Department for Education to develop an Emergency Action Plan to significantly reduce the number of out-of-area placements. We welcome the onus being put on central government, as well as an emphasis on prioritising funding to go alongside the plan.

Also included in the recommendations is a call to change the law to ensure that unregulated semi-independent accommodation is regulated; that decisions to place children out of area should be properly evidenced and in the interests of the child; that a new requirement should be placed on children’s services to properly consult and support children being moved out of area; and, that the Department for Education and the Home Office should develop a cross-departmental strategy to tackle child criminal exploitation – with a specific focus on looked-after children in out-of-area placements.

We shall be saying something ourselves about child criminal exploitation and residential care before the end of the year. In the meantime, I recommend the APPG report as required reading.

Andrew Neilson

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