Time and again local authorities are placing children in care in the cheapest accommodation, rather than the accommodation that best meets their needs. For more than 30,000 children last year, this meant being torn away from their schools, loved ones and support networks – placed miles outside of their local area, often with no warning.
The impact is devastating:
“As a result of my move, I have felt unwanted in various aspects of my life” – Claudia
“I was worried about my A Level exams, as getting into university was important to me. But I was placed very far away from my college.” – Sedil
And there is a darker side. Children in distant placements are more vulnerable to criminal exploitation, trafficking and “county lines” than those who remain in their home area. Ofsted’s recent report concluded that distant placements contribute to the sexual exploitation of children because it makes it more difficult for agencies to work together to keep them safe.
Councils have a legal duty to ensure that children in care are accommodated within their local area if that is in their best interests, which, for the vast majority of children, it will be. They also have a duty to ensure there is enough provision in their area to allow that to happen. Out of area placements are intended to be a last resort. Yet, thousands of children are being sent miles away from everything and everyone they know.
So why is this happening? Three quarters of children’s homes are now run by the private sector and these are disproportionately located in the North of England. Not because demand is higher there – but because property is cheaper.
Last year the six largest private care providers made £219 million in profit, whilst local authorities struggled to balance their books and outcomes for children in care remain dire.
Good Law Project has launched groundbreaking legal action to prevent children being put at risk by being separated from their support networks. We’re challenging five local authorities – Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex, Surrey and Derby City – for not complying with their duty.
We are also challenging the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, for failing to exercise his power to step in. We believe the Secretary of State’s failure to act, whilst children in care suffer, to be unlawful. You can read the pre-action protocol letter here and Statement of Facts and Grounds here.
The state can and must do better for these children. If you would like to donate to the legal challenge, you can do so here.