Its nice to hear that finally the Government has realised that there is an issue with young people that are in care who go missing. With the Children Service blog from the Community Care website reporting that some young people require 30 failed placements before residential care is chosen.
Going missing is a key indicator that a child might be in great danger. When children go missing, they are at very serious risk of physical abuse, sexual exploitation and sometimes so desperate they will rob or steal to survive. (APPG Inquiry into children missing from care, 2012)
A worrying factor for already vulnerable young people who have been placed into care, who are in desperate need of care, support and a sense of belonging and a placement that can help develop resilience and self esteem.
Having worked in Residential Care for nearly ten years, it was very rare that I would have to deal with young people that went missing for any significant period of time. But, this was based on the work that team completed with the young people representing the investment in the young people we were making.
As a Social Worker working with adolescent looked after children, and some of whom that are placed in Residential Care, I can understand some of the difficulties that some young people experience with multiple placement moves and also some of the issues the staff have working with them may experience.
So what is the definition of a missing child?
For the purpose of this Procedure a child (i.e. a young person under the age of 18 years) is to be considered ‘missing’ if their whereabouts are unknown, whatever the circumstances of their disappearance. They will be considered missing until they are located and their well-being or otherwise is established. (LSCB, 2002)
However, more commonly the young person may have an ‘unauthorised absence which is defined as
This category is critical to the clarification of roles of the Police and Children’s Social Services. Some children absent themselves from home or care for a short period and then return, often their whereabouts are known or may be quickly established through contact with family or friends or are unknown but the children are not considered at risk. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed as a boundary testing activity which is well within the range of normal teenage behaviour. These children have taken ‘unauthorised absence’, and would not usually come within the definition of ‘missing’ for this Procedure. If a child’s whereabouts are known then they cannot be ‘missing’. Unauthorised absences must be carefully monitored as the child may subsequently go missing. (LSCB, 2002)
Of course the concern is not so much with the second group but more with the first. I wonder why it is only now, after the incident that occurred in Rochdale that this has only just become a bigger issue. Probably because even though the recorded figure from the Police is 10,000 children going missing over the past year this still only represents a very small percentage of the population, and until now not a priority for a Government trying to save money.
Furthermore, in order to save money the government has tried to reduce costs and has indirectly removed departments, and passed on the need to make savings to Local Authority’s that have all impacted on the service that can be provided by all agency’s. Moreover, meaning that training for Residential workers has suffered and that Local Authority owned children homes have been sold off. Meaning that more placements are sort further away due to the cost of buildings and staffing cost many of these have appeared in the north of the country, where this may not be such an issue.
What would be interesting to know is whether the 10,000 young people that are going missing are doing so just because they are placed out of county or because of other more deep rooted issues. But to acknowledge this would then mean that further training for all residential workers is not only important but essential.
I would then also support the need for better regulations of the workers and also as discussed in the report a change to the inspection ratings for Children homes that have a lot of young people who repeated go missing from, meaning that Social Workers could better decide where to match the young people they have with placements.
More significantly I also find Tim Loughton’s comment upsetting and ignorant of what his party has done towards Social Work with vulnerable young people and children in care. He argues that….
“It is completely unacceptable that existing rules are simply being ignored and frankly, some local authorities and children’s homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper ‘parent’,” he said. “It is wrong for local agencies not to have a grip on how many children are going missing from care nor for proper alarms to be raised and action taken when teenagers run away multiple times. It is shocking to hear that any professional could think that teenagers at risk of being physically or sexually abused are making lifestyle choices of their own volition, rather than being the victims of crime.” (Gaurdian,2012)
I find it shocking because I do not know any social worker who would use this language when describing a young person who is in the care of the Local Authority they work in, or a social worker who would not work late to collect the young person up often from an unknown address to ensure that they are safe, giving time that they might not be able to claim back due to the amount of work undertaken by social workers.
I also find that it further reinforces the need to have teams that understand the needs of looked after children. That have the time to track down young people who may be missing, to have the time to explore how and why this might happen, to return them to their placements and discuss and work through the issues with the placement provider. It would also be important to be able to have the time to have a multi agency meeting where every agency attends where every one contributes to the plan and provides the support to the young person on their return.
So rather than the government criticise every other agency for the failure to looked after children, instead it should criticise its failure to properly invest in young people. To provide better training, registration and inspections. By over burdening professionals and removing resources and trying to provide a better service through privatisation and by growth in the independent sector.
Furthermore for more research to be completed into why young people go missing and try to identify a provision that can start to meet the needs of the most disaffected young people who have suffered severe neglect and physical and sexual abuse at home before being placed into care. It will be a long time before we see the effects of early intervention having a meaningful outcome on reducing the numbers of young people coming in to care, so in the meantime funding should still be provided for the most needy and vulnerable and as the Government now understands is essential and has a serious outcome for the young person if they are not found or further abuse is not prevented.