Yesterday (Wednesday, 24 April) Children's Minister Ed Timpson set out proposals to reform the child protection system for children who go missing from care. There is no doubt this is a welcome step for some of this country's most vulnerable children.
These measures reflect many of the recommendations set out by a parliamentary inquiry, supported by The Children's Society, last summer into children who go missing from care. This inquiry found that our residential care system is not fit for purpose. Thousands of children are being systematically failed by the very professionals employed to protect them. As the minister outlined, a lower standard of care is all too often applied to children in care. This is simply not good enough.
Three key problems with the system were highlighted by the inquiry - inadequate data collection and support for children who go missing from care, children being placed far away from home in areas that are often unsafe and professionals' poor attitudes to these children.
Every year 10,000 children are estimated to go missing from care. Yet only a small proportion of cases are being recorded by local authorities. This parliamentary inquiry also found glaring differences between data collected by the police and local areas.
Almost half of children in care are also placed several - and on occasions hundreds of miles - from home, often in children's homes located in high crime areas targeted by sexual predators. For too many, being so far away from their family, friends and support networks, leads to them going missing time and time again.
Going missing is a critical warning sign that something is wrong in a child's life. Yet evidence revealed that professionals are often slow to respond. This is exacerbated by professionals too often viewing children as the problem - routinely dismissing them as 'troublesome' or 'streetwise'. Let's make no bones about it - children going missing from care are extremely vulnerable and in need of significant support.
The Children's Society also believes that it is unacceptable that the most vulnerable children in our society are placed many miles from home, except in exceptional circumstances.
Which is why we very much welcome government plans to help local authorities get a better handle on how many children go missing from care, ensure that decisions about placing children out of area are thoroughly scrutinised and stop vulnerable children being sent to live where it is very difficult to keep them safe.
Ultimately, what will make the difference is how these children are treated by the professionals there to protect them. There must be a dramatic change in attitudes and culture towards these very vulnerable children. The government's review of the training and qualifications of staff in children's homes, to provide them with the skills to support these children, should help address this.
Children in care are some of the most vulnerable in our society. Children we work with have experienced neglect, abuse, family conflict or sexual exploitation. Their needs are particularly challenging. But with the right support we strongly believe they can flourish. Their needs should be placed at the heart of any intervention. Not least, these children need to be believed and trusted.
This culture change will, of course, take time. But the government is taking important steps to make change happen.