"Pass The Parcel"

{Above image created by freepik – www.freepik.com}

This post has been updated on 27/12/19.

“I feel like a parcel getting moved around all the time, getting opened up and sent back and moved on to somewhere else.”

Teenage girl, in care over 100 miles from home

I am writing this on Boxing Day, 2019 at time of year we claim is for families to get together. We are confronted with pictures of happy families sitting around a dinner table or the TV, just enjoying each others’ company. Yet for many children, Christmas is not a time for family. The NSPCC report:

In 2016/17  there were approximately 96,000 looked after children in the UK. The total number of looked after children in the UK has increased every year since 2010. In the last five years the population of looked after children in the UK has increased by 5%.

NSPCC

These figures differ somewhat from the Office for National Statistics official figures, of 78,150, in 2018 – the majority of which (almost 75%) come from ethnically white backgrounds. What isn’t contested, is that this figure has been steadily rising. (I have not yet compared this rise against the rise in the age related population however).

A very rough calculation (as accurate figures are hard to come by) puts the percentage of children in care at around 6-8% of children under 18. A very crude averaging out would mean an average of 2 children per class of 30 children.

The election of the Conservatives in 2010 set off a stringent policy of austerity, where the disadvantaged were forced to pay for the excesses and recklessness of the financiers who caused the 2008 economic meltdown. in just eight years the Conservative administration shut down 1000 Surestart Children’s centres.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, has just (December 2019) published a report on the experiences of children in the care system, titled: “Pass the Parcel. Children posted around the care system“. in their report they argue:

There are over 30,000 looked after children living ‘out of area’ in England.This is 41% of all children in care and has risen by 13% since 2014. Over 11,000 of these children are more than 20 miles from what they would call home, with over 2,000 further than a hundred miles away.

Now 40% of 8% is about 3%. So on average there will be around one pupil per class in this situation, often placed miles from home “simply because there is nowhere suitable for them to live locally(Children’s Commissioner, p. 2). Why? because cash-strapped local authorities do not have enough places for children to live meaning many of them “end up going to live in children’s homes run by private companies, often operating in cheaper and less ‘desirable’ parts of the country“. The experience of a Conservative government turns out to be a nightmare for those very children who are rarely seen and never heard.

Children living far away are likely to have more complicated and fragmented histories. They are more likely to be older children, more likely to be living in children’s homes than children placed in their local areas, and more likely to have experienced multiple moves while in care. Being so far away from their hometowns can be another trauma for children who have already had difficult upbringings. More than half of children (52%) living out of their local area have special educational needs and a quarter (24%) have social, emotional and mental health identified as their primary need. These are therefore often children who struggle to process change and need routine and consistency to stay calm and content. They may take a long time to build trust with adults and feel settled, and yet this group are at risk of chronic instability at the hands of the care system.

Children’s Commissioner, p. 2

In the mainstream media, we get told of the difficulties these “wayward” and “deviant” children pose to services: the police, NHS and education services. In my world – the world of education – teachers struggle to respond adequately in a system that is under resourced and unconcerned. The Conservatives establish a right wing “Behaviour Czar” with all the, no doubt intended, imagery that language conjures up of the brutality of the Romanovs.

What the Children’s Commissioner report provides is a narrative of the experiences of the children going through this experience, in order to “shine a light on the experiences of these children as victims of a system that is letting them down, not as ‘problems’ for the system“. Further evidence of the systematic denial of the needs of these vulnerable children was reported in The Guardian also on Boxing Day, by Sarah Marsh and Pamela Duncan in article titled “Revealed: councils paid inadequate care homes £2.3m to house children“. They identified more evidence, if indeed any was needed, of the inhumanity behind the right wing strategy of marketisation of the care system pursued by the Conservative Government.

One result is local councils are sending children into care homes that simply “do not provide a good standard of care“, but of course that in itself is of little consequence, because these inadequate ohmes are earning millions of pounds for their abuse – because that is what it surely is – of many vulnerable young children.

 Ofsted report on children’s social care in England and identify 78 providers whose properties were listed as being inadequate or in need of improvement. Their framework for Social Care Common Inspection framework (SCCIF) – Children’s Homes describes the process of inspection and their Main Findings are online. The Guardian report:

Some 58 children were placed in such homes by at least 23 local authorities in the following three-month period, handing more than £2.3m to failing providers, according to freedom of information responses and analysis of councils’ published expenditure.The figures could be much higher as a substantial number of councils did not respond, some would not say how many children on the grounds of data protection, and some would not say how much money was spent on providers citing commercial sensitivity.

Sarah Marsh and Pamela Duncan, The Guardian, 26th December 2019

The needs of these children are secondary to the profit to be made by private companies – some of which are identified by the Guardian. For any teacher, it is essential Christmas reading. Start here, and be prepared to cry.

“I’d never heard of this area.” – Teenage boy in care, around 75 miles from home

“I feel isolated. I don’t even know where I am … you feel like you have no-one” – Teenage girl in care

“I don’t even know where I am on the map” – Teenage girl in care, around 80 miles from ‘home

“I never unpack cos I know I’ll be passed on somewhere else in a few weeks” – Teenage girl in care

Children’s Commissioner

Merry Christmas

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