Care system struggling to cope, says children’s commissioner

Wednesday 14th October 2020 by MarkK

The care system in England is struggling to cope with rising demand from teenagers, the children’s commissioner has said.  New research produced by the commissioner’s office found the number of children in care aged 13 or over rose by 21% between 2013 and 2018, while the number aged five or under fell by 15%.

The study showed there were 25% more over-16s entering care during 2017/18 than 2013/14, a bigger increase than for any other age group. As a result, nearly a quarter of children in care (23%) are now over 16. A further two-fifths (39%) are aged 10 to 15.

Anne Longfield, who was appointed children’s commissioner for England in 2015, warned that services were struggling to cope with the growth of teenagers in the care system because they were more likely to have vulnerabilities that required specialist support.  Compared with under-13s, teenagers in care are significantly more likely to be vulnerable to sexual exploitation, running away from home, gangs, trafficking and drug misuse.

The commissioner’s annual Stability Index, which looks at the number of times children in care move home placement, school or social worker, found that older children and teenagers in care had much higher levels of instability and were about 80% more likely than the national average to have two or more changes of home within a year.

“It is clear that we have a care system which is playing catch-up,” said Longfield. “The new norm is shifting so that fewer babies and very young children are being taken off parents who cannot cope.  Instead it is teenagers who are being taken into care because they are experiencing issues such as criminal or sexual exploitation, going missing from home, and parents being unable to protect them.

“The result is a care system that is struggling to cope and which in turn is not providing the stability that many highly vulnerable children need.”

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