Vulnerable children dumped in rat-infested 'prison-like' care homes

Thousands of vulnerable children are being dumped in rat-infested ‘prison-like’ care homes because their history of sex abuse and gang culture makes them too difficult for foster families, report reveals

  • Around 8,000 vulnerable children were sent to three different homes in one year
  • Thousands spent time in unregulated, uninspected children’s homes in 2018/19 
  • They reported finding knives and Class A drugs behind sofas at the homes 
  • ‘Shocking cases used to be rare, are now routine,’ says Children’s Commissioner 
  • One child in care, whose life was in danger, could not get a care home place

Thousands of vulnerable children are being dumped in rat-infested ‘prison-like’ care homes because foster families find their history of sex abuse and gang culture too difficult, a report has found.

The report, by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, said there are too few care homes and ‘the whole system is becoming immune to the devastating effect this is having on children’. 

More than 6,500 youngsters who have been sexually abused or caught up in gangs are sent to care homes because they are considered too difficult or dangerous to be fostered by families, it said. 

Many councils have few home places in their own districts so children are sent to distant boroughs with more homes – often in cheap seaside towns. The rise of county lines drug gangs has also made teenagers in homes a target for recruitment.

Miss Longfield said there were problems in unregulated privately-run homes, with ‘inhospitable conditions… used for older children, which they described to us as disgusting, like a prison cell and even rat-infested’.

More than 6,500 youngsters who have been sexually abused or caught up in gangs are sent to care homes because they are considered too difficult or dangerous to be fostered by families, a report found

‘Sarah, aged 17, told our helpline that her accommodation was filthy and smelly. There was only one working shower between 14 children and young people, and it was mouldy. 

‘The kitchen had no oven, only one hob, and her bedroom was damp and had bugs in the carpet. Elsewhere children have told us they have not even been provided with the means to eat or sleep – things like duvet covers, plates or cutlery.’

It added: ‘In England, one in eight children in care have spent time in unregulated accommodation, many feeling abandoned, poorly supported and ashamed of their surroundings. These children are also scared.

‘They have told us about finding knives and Class A drugs behind sofas, being left to stay alone in accommodation after it has been broken into and smashed up, being assaulted by other residents yet still not moved to somewhere else, and being intimidated into letting local gangs set up shop inside. 

‘It is no wonder that children say it is so easy to get lost to drugs and alcohol in these places.’ 

Miss Longfield said those falling through the cracks of an increasingly ‘fragmented, uncoordinated and irrational system’ risk becoming victims of criminal or sexual exploitation.

Three reports filed by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield have revealed the devastating impact a ‘fragmented, uncoordinated and irrational,’ care home system is having on vulnerable youngsters. Children and teenagers are discovering knives and Class A drugs in unregulated accommodation that are not inspected

She has published three reports setting out how children’s residential social care is failing some of the country’s most vulnerable children.

The reports said some privately-run homes were excellent, but there were too few of them and they were in the wrong places. 

The Government’s failure to heed previous warnings suggests a ‘deep-rooted institutional ambivalence’, she believes.

The Government said its independent care review would be launched ‘as soon as possible’.

One report, Crisis in residential care: How children are being betrayed by the state – the culmination of three years’ research – concludes that there are thousands of children the system ‘doesn’t know what to do with’.

It found there were 8,000 children who had three different homes within a single year as of March 31 2019.

It noted ‘frequent and unwanted moves’, children being uprooted to places they could not identify on a map and into children’s homes that were filthy, rat-infested and felt ‘overly institutional’.

One teenager said she was placed eight hours from her hometown and was not able to see her mother for months.

Another girl never made the effort to unpack because she knew she would be ‘passed on somewhere else in a few weeks’ like a parcel’.

Of all the children who were in care in 2018/19, around one in eight – 12,800 children – spent some time in unregulated accommodation.

These homes, 79 per cent of which are provided by the private sector, are not inspected.

The report concludes: ‘Local and national leaders have behaved for far too long as if shutting their eyes will make this problem disappear. It hasn’t, and it won’t.’

Another paper, looking at instability in children’s care, found that one in 10 children in care moved home at least twice over 2018-19, and a quarter did so over two years.

One report concludes that there are thousands of children the system ‘doesn’t know what to do with’. Stock image

Some 6,500 children lived in at least four different homes over two years, with 12-to-15-year-olds most likely to experience multiple moves.

The Commissioner’s final report examined the growth of private companies providing foster placements and children’s homes.

The number of children in homes provided by the private sector grew by 42% between 2011 and 2019, with local authority provision not keeping pace, it found.

Best available estimates suggest certain large providers are seeing a profit margin of around 17 per cent on fees from local authorities on average, which can amount to more than £200million a year, the report said.

But she said the Department for Education has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that councils have the resources to discharge their obligations, and forecast provision, and it has ‘failed in each’.

Ms Longfield said a high court judge had told her last month that a child in care, whose life was in danger, could not get a care home place.

 One in 10 children care moved home at least over 2018-19, and a quarter of all vulnerable children did so over two years

She said: ‘These shocking cases used to be rare but are now routine, and I am worried the whole system is becoming immune to the devastating effect this is having on children who may have previously been abused and neglected, or have serious mental or physical health needs. These children are being failed by the state.

‘The growing reliance on private providers, some of whom are making millions, is another symptom of a system failing to prioritise the needs of children. Both the Government and councils have failed in their responsibilities by leaving it to the market.’

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: ‘The Education Secretary has been clear that no child should be denied the opportunity for a loving, stable family life, or be ‘bounced around’ the care system in accommodation that does not meet their needs. We have also set out that children under the age of 16 should not be living in unregulated homes.

‘Our bold, broad and independently-led Care Review will launch as soon as possible, and will support improvements in the children’s social care system. This will build on the millions we have invested in secure children’s homes and in projects designed to increase capacity and improve how places for these children are commissioned.’

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