Local authorities say placing children in residential care far from home can help stop risky behaviour but more needs to be done

New research by the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) at the Institute of Education with the Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) at Loughborough University has found that whilst costs are a key consideration in deciding where to place children, finding a placement to meet the child’s assessed needs is of greater concern.

In 2012, 4,890 children were accommodated in residential children’s homes. Almost half of these (46%) were placed outside the local authority area. Placements were intended to secure specialist provision for children with complex disabilities or severe mental health issues. These needs cannot always be met within the local authority.

Recent reports have identified children placed in residential care outside their home area as a particular at risk group but despite this local authorities say they are placing children in residential care outside of their area to help break patterns of risky behaviour such as child sexual exploitation, offending behaviour, gangs and guns.

Charlie Owen, TCRU, said: “A number of reports have expressed concern over the vulnerability of teenage girls being placed in children’s homes a long way from their communities. We found that local authorities accounted for out of area placements in terms of either meeting specialist needs or to move children from the local area to break the cycle of risky behaviour. However, more needs to be done to ensure the safety of these children a long way from home.”

The report, led by the TCRU at the Institution of Education, is part of the DfE funded Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre’s work and seeks to promote an improved understanding of the children’s residential care market.  The Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre is a partnership between the TCRU and other centres at the Institute of Education, CCFR at Loughborough University and the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at the University of Kent.

The report also found that:

  • In situations where children are placed a long way from home, local authorities encounter a range of additional challenges and issues as they try to protect and promote their welfare.
  • Where local authorities receive children placed from outside their area, there are resource implications for a range of agencies, including children’s services, schools, pupil referral units, the police, youth offending teams, health services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Messages for policy and practice:

  • The current system of information sharing between placing and receiving authorities was found to be poor and weak. Measures should be taken to strengthen the system so that all parties are clear about where children are placed and respective roles and responsibilities for protecting and promoting their welfare.
  • Findings support proposals to amend the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended) and the Care Standards Act (Registration) (England) Regulations 2010 to improve collaboration between children’s homes and services in local communities and to strengthen Ofsted’s inspection regime.

For further details contact Emily Brewer e.brewer@ioe.ac.uk 020 7911 5501 or Rowan Walker R.Walker@ioe.ac.uk 020 7911 5423.

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