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Kent County Council has called on councils to do more to ensure that children in care are placed as close to home as possible to minimise disruption to their lives.
According to the Council, there are currently 1,267 children in care that have been placed in Kent by other local authorities.
The leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, said: "Being taken into care is probably the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child. Children in care deserve a better deal and all councils must work much harder to provide placements that enable them to remain in their schools and with their friends, unless there is a threat to their safety. This will minimise disruption in their lives and protect the wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable children."
He went on to say that: "There are very good reasons why authorities place some children far away from home – with prospective adopters, with relatives, in specialist residential provision, catering for acute need or disability, that is not available closer. However, there are far too many vulnerable children and young people placed in children's homes and with non-related foster carers miles away from home. It is extremely difficult to be an effective ‘corporate parent’ and look after children placed so far away from home.”
The Council has called on the Government to legislate to:
- require local authorities to place children within 15 miles of their home or school, unless by exception,
- ensure all local authorities report annually on how many children have been placed more than 15 miles away or in another local authority area, and
- require London councils to work together to commission care placements in London to enable children to stay close to home, and reduce pressure placed on Kent's public services by supporting children from other council areas.
The Government has published an Action Plan for Adoption to overhaul the system for prospective adopters and strengthen the performance regime for local authorities.
The current system is too bureaucratic and takes too long for both potential adopters and children who need a stable, loving home.
The numbers of children adopted from care has been decreasing in recent years. Just 3,050 children found new homes through adoption last year, the lowest since 2001. A recent survey showed that one third of adopters were not satisfied with their experience of the adoption system. Research has shown that with every year that a child waits their chances of being adopted decreased by 20%.
The new action plan will include proposals for:
- New adoption scorecards, to hold local authorities to account. The first scorecards will be published in the coming weeks.
- A revised approval process for new adopters, cutting it to six months.
- A national gateway for adoption, providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in adoption.
Children’s Rights Director Roger Morgan has published the annual Children’s care monitor, which gives nearly 2,000 children’s views through an online survey.
This year, the monitor survey included a new focus on children’s experiences of placement change in care. Just over half (55%) of the children in care in the 2011 survey said they were only given a week or less notice before they were last moved to live in a different placement. Twenty-three per cent reported that they were given no notice at all of their last move and were told on the same day they were moved.
As in previous years, the 2011 survey found a high level of separation of siblings in care. Nearly three quarters (73%) of children in care who also had a sibling in care reported that they had been separated in different placements.
Children in children’s homes were found to be more likely than children in foster homes to be separated from siblings in care. In fact, 96% of children surveyed in children’s homes who also had siblings in the care system had been separated from brothers or sisters.
Up to the time of the survey, the average number of times children responding had moved placements had risen from 4 in 2010 to 5 in 2011. Well over half (57%) of children in care surveyed said they had no choice of placement the last time they were moved.