Local Authorities are under a duty to ensure that children in their care are residing in suitable placements. In England and Wales, a person is deemed a child until the age of eighteen. As such, when a child is under the care of a local authority, they must be provided with suitable accommodation until at least their eighteenth birthday.
However, children over the age of sixteen are frequently being placed in unregulated children’s homes, where they are suffering sexual exploitation and/or sexual abuse. Often referred to as “supported accommodation”, over-sixteens are provided with support from local authorities, but not a full care package.
The abuse often occurs when children go missing from the children’s homes and local authorities frequently fail to protect the children from the same. The BBC has recently investigated 85 local authorities, finding that the number of “missing episodes” in unregulated children’s homes has doubled since 2016, increasing from 4,656 to 10,074, and at least 63 children have been sexually abused in the same period.
Children who suffer abuse in this manner often experience very serious mental health problems as a result and frequently turn to drugs and self-harm.
Ms Allen, from the Missing People charity, has called on the government to conduct an urgent review of unregulated children’s homes, noting that “any child who goes missing is at risk of serious harm and this only increases if they are placed in situations where they go missing more often”.
Ofsted holds local authorities accountable for the care that they provide to children. However, it is clear that further and more frequent regulation is required.
At Farleys, we frequently represent individuals who have had similar experiences both in regulated and unregulated children’s homes. Some of our clients were groomed and exploited by drug dealers or grooming gangs, meaning that they seemingly “absconded” from children’s homes rather than being abducted. However, relevant local authorities fail to address the reason that the child is missing from the children’s home, or conduct proper investigations as to where the child has been and with whom, upon the child’s return. This is something that was explored by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse following their investigation into Nottinghamshire Councils Children’s Homes in 2018/2019. Without these measures taking place, it is difficult to prevent the same from reoccurring.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of abuse or have been affected by abuse, whilst we appreciate that it is often difficult to talk about what has happened, our team is experienced and dedicated to speaking with you in the strictest of confidence. Call our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430 or contact us by email.