20/09/2017 11:44 BST | Updated 20/09/2017 11:44 BST

Improved Support Is Vital For Children In Care Placed Away From Home

Children in care are some of the most vulnerable in society and may have experienced a really difficult start in life involving neglect and abuse.

The Children's Society supports many of these young people and also offers help to young people who go missing from care.

That is why we were concerned new figures published by Anne Coffey MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Missing Children and Adults. They show an increase in the number of children placed in residential care outside their home council area. The number rose from 2,250 in March 2012 - nearly four in ten of all children's homes placements at that time - to 4,200, more than half, in March 2016.

This is worrying, because without their usual networks of family and friends, children are at increased risk of going missing, with all the dangers that involves, such as child sexual abuse and exploitation by criminal gangs.

Sometimes a move away from a child's local area is necessary for their safety and well-being. However, we know that in too many cases this is still happening simply because there are not enough appropriate placements.

Whatever the reason for a move, we have real concerns that many of these children are not getting the help they need.

Councils still on occasion fail to inform the new local authority and police force about the move, and all too often they do not share information about the risks a child may be exposed to, including if they go missing. Our recent report, Making Connections, found that the 97 councils which responded to our request knew of nearly 14,000 children placed in their area by other local authorities. But one in 10 cases they were only aware because a child had gone missing or been criminally exploited. Separate national statistics show there were many more children - more than 28,000 - in these placements in 2015/16.

Even when information is shared, planning and support can fall short.

Children do not always get the help they need to stay in touch with family and friends where this is appropriate. We also hear about moves happening at extremely short notice, sometimes around exam times, and of children travelling huge distances to get to school. We found that many children who go missing from placements outside their home area do not receive statutory return home interviews to find out why this has happened and to make sure they get the help they need.

While there is some good practice, too often, shortcomings such as these can be harmful to children's well-being.

So what more could be done to help keep these children safe?

First, we would urge councils to ensure placements are in the child's best interests and that they are only moved 'out of area' when absolutely necessary.

Councils should work with one another and with care providers to make sure there is a better geographic spread of placements - and that this is determined not simply by local authority boundaries and property costs but by children's needs and local demand.

We would urge the Government to invest more in support. A projected £2bn children's services funding shortfall by 2020 means it is much harder for councils to invest in support for children in the care system, as well as to provide the early support to families which can prevent the need for some children to become looked after.

When a move away from their home area is necessary children should get the support they need to thrive and stay safe. They should be able to stay in touch with family and friends when appropriate, and they should receive a return home interview.

It is also vital that councils fulfil their legal duties in sharing information with one another when a child in care moves between local authority boundaries, including about any risks faced by the child. The Government should amend the regulations to ensure that when this happens councils also notify the police force in which the placement is located - we found that more than a third of councils never do this.

Care providers should also ensure they have all the information they need about every child and report any incident of a child going missing to police and the local authority.

We need all statutory agencies to take responsibility and ensure these crucial safeguards are in place.

Only by working closely together and being held accountable for ensuring these things are consistently happening will all children in care get the support they need to stay safe and flourish.