Barrow MP John Woodcock today called for a public awareness campaign to address the heightened risk of child criminal exploitation facing children in care following the publication of an important report.
Mr Woodcock made the call after the report, published by the Children’s Society working with the All-party Parliamentary Group for runaway and missing children and adults, entitled ‘No Place At Home’ highlighted some of the issues faced by vulnerable children placed in care far away from their friends and family.
The report shows that children sent out of area, or placed in unregulated accommodation (that is, accommodation not regulated by Ofsted) are often left isolated and alone. This can lead them to travel long distances unaccompanied to see friends and family, leaving them open to child criminal exploitation (CCE).
Figures show that 1 in 10 children in care go missing each year, with the average runaway child reported missing more than 6 times a year. The report also infers that it is more likely for a child sent out of area to go missing than counterparts kept in care in area.
The report mentions criminals, including gang leaders and paedophiles, target children’s homes knowing that they make good recruiting grounds for alienated, vulnerable young people. CCE, which also involves the phenomenon known as county lines, is a wide-ranging set of criminal activity that sees children exploited for dangerous or sexual purposes.
The report offers a wide-ranging set of suggestions for reforming the care system and providing greater support for children in care wishing to keep in contact with friends and family, greater regulation of accommodation, cross departmental schemes to combat CCE and county lines and improve police procedure in gathering information from missing children who return home.
Last autumn, Mr Woodcock convened a seminar in Westminster, attended by top law enforcement officials from across the country, MPs and peers and representatives from charitable organisations to discuss how to combat the rising scourge of county lines. County lines sees vulnerable children and adults manipulated into transporting drugs and money between metropolitan centres and rural and coastal towns. It is considered one of the more well-known forms of CCE.
At the seminar, representatives reached a consensus that there needed to be heightened awareness and joined up provisions for safeguarding across police forces and between services.
Mr Woodcock said: “This is an incredibly important report that brings into sharp relief the fact that children in care are not receiving the support they need.
“I want to invite all local media groups, from the Mail to Cando FM to Cumbria Crack, to come together with me and hopefully alongside Cumbria police, charities and the council to work out an awareness strategy to better educate and inform families and children on CCE and what can be done to improve children’s care in the area.
“Our local press is at the centre of the community, and many turn to them for information on community events and services.
“We need to work across our local community to promote awareness of the issues facing children in care, to identify those in need and provide the services to support them. Local news organisations are uniquely placed to lead the charge to help educate the community and push for change to our services.”