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Care-experienced delegation visits Downing Street to deliver 10k strong petition

Campaigners are calling for greater protection of teens in care...

Care experienced deliver petition
Petition delivered to Number 10

Published by Professional Social Work Magazine, 1 February 2022

A petition signed by more than 10,500 people with experience of care and those who support them has been handed in at Downing Street today.

The petition seeks to rectify a recent change to the law which means only children aged 15 or younger are protected from councils placing them in properties without carers or supervision.

This leaves children aged between 15 and 18 vulnerable. The petitioners hope to shine a light on children in care being placed in shared houses, hostels, bedsits, hotels and caravan parks - accommodation that advocacy group Article 39 describes as ‘care-less’.

Campaigners point to an increase of 89 per cent in such placements between March 2010 and March 2020. During this same period, the number of children in care aged 16 and 17 grew by 38 per cent.

Over 6,400 16 and 17-year-olds – more than a third of the total number of children this age in care – live in properties without adult carers. They are more likely to be boys and children from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

The petition was signed by more than 10,500 care experienced people, family members, foster carers, social workers, children’s lawyers and others who work with, and champion the rights of, children in care.

Terry Galloway, who spent his entire childhood in and out of care, said: “The courts award local authorities care orders for children until they are 18. They are meant to be in education, not becoming victims to criminal gangs, crime and domestic violence.

“Having been through the system myself, I know firsthand how isolating it is when everything drops away and there is no safety net.”

Rebekah Pierre, a care leaver and qualified social worker who now works for BASW England, said: “Living in care-less accommodation as a child had extremely damaging consequences on my mental and physical well-being, and I know many others went through the same. No child ought to navigate life on their own.”

Property owners who provide care and accommodation to children are required to register with Ofsted and follow children’s home quality standards.

But Carolyne Willow, director of advocacy group Article 39 which fights for children’s rights, explains: “Owners are able to bypass these legal obligations by only giving children accommodation and support, not care. The new legislation says this is legitimate for 16 and 17 year-olds in care, but younger children must always be cared for.”

Twenty-two children in care aged 16 and 17 died in accommodation between 2018 and 2020.

Carolyne continued: “The children’s minister has refused to reveal the names of the councils responsible for these children, saying this would identify the children. Yet each of these 22 children were in the care of the state, and they should have all been safe, protected and well looked after.”

A review by the Children’s Commissioner in 2020 found that children in care were frequently living in properties with vulnerable adults who had recently come out of prison, had addictions or were struggling with their own mental health difficulties.

Last year, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel revealed it had analysed 48 incidents where children had entered care as a result of abuse or neglect and had died or suffered serious harm while in care.

According to Ofsted, children regularly have no staff supervision, have full responsibility for their medication and healthcare appointment, full control of their finances and don’t need permission to stay somewhere else overnight. There are also concerns children are missing vital schoolwork.

The Together Trust charity asked councils for data on the number of 16 and 17 year-olds living in supported accommodation who were going without education. Replies from 67 councils showed there were 3,253 children in care aged 16 and 17 who were missing education or training all or some of the time.

Research commissioned by the Department for Education reported that four in ten children in care living in supported accommodation were put there by councils within less than a week of entering care.