Highest number of children in care for nearly 25 years


The number of children in care has increased to its highest level for nearly 25 years, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Some 68,110 children were being looked after by local authorities in England at the end of March 2013 - a 14% increase since 2008. Local authorities in England are having to "phone around" to find secure placements for girls at risk of child sexual exploitation, the NAO said.

The report - called Children in Care - said children had been forced to move placements due to poor placement planning that was failing to meet the needs of the young person.

The report accuses the Department of Education of failing to meet targets for improving care for foster children and those in residential homes.

There has been no progress in getting children into the right placement first time and close to home in the last four years, the NAO said.

The report said only 15% of children in care achieved five or more GCSEs at A* to C including English and Maths in 2012/13, compared with 58% of children not in care.

According to the report: "There is no central clearing point for this capacity so local authorities simply have to telephone around England, or even Scotland, to find a free place, if one exists.

"A report by Ofsted on this issue found that the commissioning of placements for children at risk of, or subject to, child sexual exploitation were undertaken in all local authorities through spot purchasing arrangements.

"It also found that children had experienced multiple placement moves and risks remained unaddressed due to poor placement planning and poor commissioning of an initial placement that was failing to meet the needs of the young person."

Overall, the report said there has been no improvement since 2009 in getting children into the right placement first time and close to home.

Children and families minister Edward Timpson said the report was fundamentally flawed, and ignored the Government's progress in improving the lives of children in care.

Charity Action for Children said the figures showed that something is going very wrong for our most vulnerable children, claiming they are being failed by the state.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Most children are taken into care because of abuse and neglect. But too many of them are not getting the right placements the first time. If their complex and challenging learning and development needs are not correctly assessed and tackled, the result is likely to be significant long-term detriment to the children themselves as well as cost to society. No progress has been made in the last four years.If the Department is to break this pattern, then it needs to use its new Innovation Programme to understand what works, especially in terms of early intervention.”

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