April 26, 2023 7.00 am This story is over 14 months old

One in five Lincolnshire children in care placed outside county

A charity says this leaves children lonely and isolated

By Local Democracy Reporter

Lincolnshire has the second highest rate of out-of-area care placements for children in England.

The news comes as a charity says more needs to be done to keep children in care close to “the people and places that matter to them.”

The national charity for children in care, Become, has analysed government and local authority data to look at the number of young people who are moved outside of their area for care placements.

The data showed that some 82,000 children were in care across England as of March 2022, with 33,540 of those being placed outside their local authority boundary on their first or only placement that year.

Lincolnshire County Council recorded a total of 730 children in care placements for 2021/22, with 581 of those being placed within the area, and 149 outside the local authority.

This figure has gradually risen over the last couple of years, as have the number of children in foster care and semi-supported placements.

The county council says its rate is lower than the national average, and is investing in local facilities.

These placements also come at a financial cost. In 2021/22, Lincolnshire County Council spent £33,257 in total on placing local children into care, whether that be using foster care, children’s homes or a semi-supported setting.

Of this total, £19,365 were spent on housing young people in children’s homes, with £12,011 of that figure going towards placing children at homes outside of the county.

By comparison, in 2019/20, Lincolnshire County Council only spent £17,508 on placing children in care – translating to a near 90% increase in spending in the space of two years.

Lincolnshire as a county also had the second highest rate of out-of-area placements of any local authority, with 47% of children living more than 20 miles from their home areas.

This was topped only by Cumbria, which stood at 56%.

Tara Jones, assistant director for children’s safeguarding at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “The number of children needing care locally remains less than the England average.

“More of our children in care live with a foster family than the England average and significantly more live locally with council foster carers than other areas.

“We want all our children in care to stay living close to their support network, school and other local services, but sometimes this isn’t possible.

“Lincolnshire is a large rural county, and this can make it hard to always find a placement close to a child’s home.

“Around 5% of our children in care live in independent care homes outside of Lincolnshire. This can be to live nearer to other family and to best meet the child’s needs.

“The council already runs six children’s residential care homes, and, to help us keep more children close to home, we have invested £1.5m in two new children’s homes in Lincoln and Louth.”

The statistics were released following Freedom of Information requests from Become to the Department for Education and 151 local authorities, between October 2022 and February 2023.

91% of the local authorities responded, but the charity said many weren’t able to provide full responses or any information at all.

This is the case for North Lincolnshire Council, which provided no data, while North East Lincolnshire Council could only provide isolated foster care, children’s home and semi-supported placement figures, rather than costs and the breakdown of whether they were in or out of the local area.

Katharine Sacks-Jones, CEO of Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers, says: “We hear time and again from the young people we work with that they’ve been made to move – often without warning – to an area they don’t know, far away from everything that matters to them.  

“Being moved can disrupt a child’s education, life outcomes, and relationships – including with brothers and sisters who might live miles away.

“Poor transport links can make it difficult or even impossible for a young person to get to school or college, see their friends or stay connected to their community.

“Young people tell us how lonely, isolated, and stigmatised it makes them feel.  

“It’s unacceptable that children are being moved away, not because it’s the right decision for them, but because there are no suitable options closer. It cannot continue. 

“There are 82,000 children in care, more than ever before, with numbers continuing to rise. Without urgent action, this problem will continue to get worse.

“We need a national commitment and strategy to keep children close to the people and places that matter to them. All children in care deserve the love and stability they need to heal and thrive.”

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