Call for better child data to prevent 'horrific' abuse
An expert group is to explore whether poor data collection is making it harder to prevent the abuse of children in care. Ministers are alarmed by "huge discrepancies" between local authority figures for missing children and the number of incidents recorded by the police.
Local authorities have already been ordered to immediately review their own data collections, alongside local police figures. Now the department for education (Dfe) is going further by:
- Asking experts to develop a data collection system to ensure a "much clearer picture" of the numbers of youngsters who go missing from care.
- Changing regulations to allow Ofsted to share information about the location of children's homes with the police and other agencies.
- Developing "risk mapping" in areas with many children's homes, to check whether they are close to homes for adult offenders, or streets with prostitution.
- Urging town halls to use a free data monitoring tool developed by the University of Bedfordshire, to record the prevalence and nature of child sexual exploitation.
The moves were announced as part of a wide-ranging action plan to better protect youngsters who live in Britain's 455 children's homes.
im Loughton, the children's minister, acted after England's Deputy Children's Commissioner warned that many such children were suffering abuse of a "violent and sadistic nature". In a published letter to Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Commissioner, he says "better local data collection" had a big role to play.
Loughton added: "These reports lift the lid on very serious weaknesses in the system. There are good children's homes and excellent care workers, but it is clear that far too many of the most vulnerable children in society are being exposed to harm and danger.
"It is completely unacceptable that existing rules are simply being ignored and that, frankly, some local authorities and homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper 'parent'."
The inquiry will also look into evidence that many troubled children in care homes have been sent from hundreds of miles away - separating them from friends and family. Attention focused on the huge number of homes in parts of the northwest, in particular, while many London boroughs have just one - or none at all.
Berelowitz said she had been shocked by what she had found out, saying: "The stories that children and young people tell us are truly horrific.