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Children running away from care need a safety net

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Lukes Dad's picture
on Tue, 08/14/2012 - 03:16
Fight Child Protection Department Corruption: 

Children in care are three times more likely to run away than those living at home; many are being failed by the systems that are supposed to protect them

MPs have been taking evidence from runaway children to find out how their care needs can be met.

The plight of society's most vulnerable children tends to go unnoticed until a tragic case of professionals failing in their duties hits the headlines, prompting public debate and political action. Baby Peter is the obvious example. Now we have the Rochdale case of older children living in care homes who were preyed upon by abusers that subject them to horrific sexual exploitation. Rightly, questions are being asked about how this could happen to children in the care of the state.

There are many examples of good practice and the care system does often make a real difference to children who have been neglected by their parents. But particularly for older children who have very complex needs we need to provide good quality care as these young people are already vulnerable and at greater risk of running away.

This is reflected in the fact that children in care are three times more likely to run away than children living at home. And it is very much a problem for older children living in care homes. Running away or going missing is a key indicator that a child might be in great danger putting themselves at very serious risk of physical abuse, sexual exploitation and crime.

Conscious that the issue of missing from care was not on the political agenda until the Rochdale case and keen to give it greater prominence, two influential parliamentary groups, chaired by Ann Coffey MP, and supported by peers and MPs from across the political spectrum, have already been working to investigate the issue by conducting their own parliamentary inquiry. Supported by the charities Missing People, the Who Cares Trust and the Children's Society, over the last few months they have taking evidence from children themselves who have run away, ministers, national agencies such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency and Ofsted, the voluntary sector, police forces and local authorities, which have all spoken about the need for change.

What has come through loud and clear is that many of the vulnerable children who go missing from care are being failed by the very people and systems that are supposed to protect them. Trafficked children from abroad are particularly being let down. Despite the child protection frameworks that are in place, witnesses revealed how these children's needs are being ignored because the authorities see child trafficking as an immigration control issue. Hundreds of them disappear from care every year and the majority are never found again.

The lack of good quality data has been raised again and again as a critical issue. The children's minister, Tim Loughton MP, admitted that it was impossible to know the true extent of the problem as the data collected by police, care services and Ofsted was "raw and erratic" – and often not comparable.

The poor quality of some children's home and other care placements has also been highlighted. One witness said that she had concerns that children were being placed "where there was a bed free, not where would be most suitable".

Tim Loughton acknowledged this and spoke about the need to improve the quality of children's homes and other placements. He recognised that children's homes were too often seen as the last resort for the most challenging and vulnerable children rather than a first resort of therapeutic support. If necessary, he said, the government would undertake a review of children's homes and might also introduce tougher rules and regulations to improve standards.

Several witnesses also highlighted the conflict the police face in supporting children who run away. The children and young people who gave evidence said they are seen as criminals or a nuisance, not as 'at risk' before or during the time they were missing. This means signs of abuse or exploitation can go undetected – leaving them unsupported and abusers unpunished.

It is clear that at present there are serious failings which need to be urgently addressed. The inquiry's findings will demonstrate how the system is far from fit for purpose and set out a number of practical recommendations so that in the future every time a child runs away from care they are provided with a genuine safety net.

Enver Solomon is director of policy for the Children's Society

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Help Fight Child Protection's picture

I have been labeled by FACS or CPS as a Druggie and drinker. It's hillarious, a young girl who regularly runs to my home because it's where she feels safe was told by her carer who has NEVER met me, my home is unsafe due to the drugs and alcohol. How did this happen? Simple.

I had this young girl and her sister staying with me. The youngest sister had self placed and FACS were supportive of this. They rang me one day to ask for my help finding the older sister, and asked if i could keep her as well. I agreed and was amazed how fast i found her. I then gave up my room, scrubbed down the walls and swapped rooms over, taking my daughter's small bedroom and they had my larger room, brought 2 new beds, sheets etc for the two sisters. I had all the kids going to school, and with the older sister, gave her a part time job in the shop i was managing. I also had my then 16 yr old son's friend staying, she is diabetic and has a heart condition, which required prescription medication.

The eldest sister decided she wasn't going to work one night as she was tired, so I agreed. She was 15, and had her boyfriend staying, she shared a room with the other three girls, and I had been very clear as she was underage, refrain from sleeping with the boyfriend, I spoke to both about this. They both assured me they were not sexually active, and you can only take their word.

I was at work, when i got a phone call from my eldest, the older sister had taken my son's friends medication, so I told her call an ambulance. In a weird co-incidence, the girls father came up to my work, and when i told him, he did not seem to be surprised and showed a real lack of concern, if this was my child I would have been upset, worried etc, this guy was so cold about it, he had a weird smirk on his face. I finished work and went straight to the hospital, I had contacted FACS so they were there. The girl's father was there as was the younger sister who had gone with her sister to the Hospital. The older sister cried and told me she was sorry, she would not look me in the face. YET that day, and the whole time she had been with me, she had been cheerful, affectionate, normal, except when their father told the girls their mother had left the state(which was a lie)and did not want any of the children. I went well out of my way to find that this was not true, and told the father telling the girls that was twisted and cruel. After finding out the girl was going to be ok, I hugged her and told her i would see her later. I walked out of the hospital with the youngest, and their case worker. The case worker then said to me, when she went to pick up the younger sister, there was a drunk adult male in my house sleeping in the end bedroom, I said to her there are NO adult males in my house, and that was my 16yr old son, who is rather large and hairy for his age, she said he was on drugs as he failed to respond to her. I asked her first what was she doing in my son's room, or even in that part of the house, she said looking for the medication the older sister had taken, which I knew had been given to the Ambulance officers and then the rest thrown in the bin, so this was a lie, I told her what had happened to it and that I had already told the FACS workers this before she had gone to my house. I then said my son has an infected foot and is on heavy painkillers, he is also on antibiotics and he is a heavy sleeper as well. I left it at that, the case worker said sorry for the assumption.

The Next day, I had two FACS workers come to get the older sister's things as she needed secure monitoring for a while, and then I heard the same accusation, so I had my son come down and introduce himself, showed them the painkillers and antibiotics and medical report, again, appology given and i was decent enough to leave it at that, thinking the case worker had simply gone home and not updated her notes. Since then, i have heard this so many times. I was asked why these kids keep coming to my house, I said maybe ask them, to them its a safe house and they want to know they are were they are wanted and not a pay check. I told them maybe actually talk to these children and listen, and don't break promises.

I have since been told by kids that come here, FACS workers claim i give kids drugs and grog, and let them run amok. Ignored by the case workers, despite my pointing them out were the list of house rules, No drugs, NO grog, and tidy up after yourself. I was told there was no structure in my house, yet i had advised the case workers that there were the general house rules, each child had jobs to do, like dishes, putting away the washing, feed the dog etc, simple jobs kids do to earn pocket money, and all had curfews, went to school, their idea of structure were little soldiers all in uniform.

I have since found out this young girl did what she did because she found out she was pregnant, due to a slip up BEFORE she arrived at my house, too scared to tell, and scared of her baby being taken away or forced to have an abortion she did what she did. BUT I have heard that she has blamed other's including me, that i was too hard on her. She has since admitted her father pressured her to say that and also to blame her mother.

The label would be amusing if not so nasty. Everyone who comes here knows there are no drugs or grog, they know if they bring it here, they will be made to leave. They know i will tip their grog out on the ground. It is known I do not drink and have not had even a beer in nearly 20 years, and I do not do drugs. This rumor or label stemmed from a case worker named Gemma who, despite being shown proof, has not actually changed her report. Ignored also was the fact these were prescription tablets the girl took, that were in a locked little box, placed on a high shelf in a wardrobe, she stole the key from the girl who's tablets they were.

The truth is something FACS have difficulty with and always will. Their system is so flawed, kids in their "care" runaway and instead of listening to the children and fixing whats wrong, they look for a scapegoat. Now, because these kids know FACS come here first looking for them, they simply go and sleep on the streets like before. They also have NO concept of privacy, as they talk about me to these children's carer's.

An Update on the young girl, the youngest sister rather. She came here a few weeks ago, her new carer dropped her off. She then reported the girl "missing", then the carer came here to pick her up, then brought her back a few days later.

    • I had a call from FACS, to my disgust the carer had lied, claiming the girl had "run" away, i corrected this. When the carer came to pick her up later that day, I walked out side and said, sweetheart, don't forget to grab your stuff, then walked off. This carer, who had parked next door, drove off while the girl was inside! I called FACS, who had the carer call. According to FACS the carer parked there because of her "safety", claimed the girl had said she was not leaving. I said that is false, how could she misshear this, I had told the young girl to get her things, so it was clear she was not staying, and how was i a threat? I had spoken to her once on the phone and we had a really good, quiet conversation, about the young girl and how to combat a bit of her lying about where she was going etc and going back to the carer's. I said to FACS about the carer just driving off, FACS said she did not, I said funny that because even my neighbor saw this and heard the woman screaming at the girl outside his house, then approached me as he was about to call the police on the Carer! I have seen abusive texts to the kids from carer's kicking them out, then they lie to FACS saying the kids have run off, I have seen FACS workers order the Police to manhandle children, dragging them, I have footage of this happening, with the smirking facs worker trying to take the phone off the person recording, blocking it from being filmed, but forgot two people filmed this. I have seen children with bruises from being hit by carer's, put in juvinlie on the word of their case worker, they control the courts with orders being granted for them, BUT the same judges who grant the orders will tell parents they do not have the POWER to grant the very same orders for the parents, or even to take the orders off!!!!
      Another part to this was a Carer by the name of Tash, who has never met me, never spoken to me, does not even know me, told a young girl who is friends with my children and has been since they were small and went to primary school with, I w
      as a drunken bimbo. She said this to the young girl via a text message that was followed by a text from this woman's partner who is NOT a foster carer kicking the young girl out, then followed by a text from the carer again kicking the young girl out. At the time, the girl was nowhere near my house, and had not been for months. I ran into her at the local shopping centre just after the texts had been sent, and asked her what she was doing roaming around, she showed me the texts, so I kept her with me at my work, rang FACS and told them, to which they said they would be around the next day to talk to the girl. I then rang the carer just in case this was not accurate and had been made by someone else. To my shock, this woman started calling me names, when i said hey hang on, you don't know me, i am trying to sort this so this kid can go back to her placement, to which this woman told me, I don't know you and i don't care, you encouraged this kid to run, which was false. i told her I had NOT seen the girl for months or even heard from her, to which this woman sneered she did not care, thats what she was telling FACS anyway, so i said fine, I will be showing FACS the texts you sent. FACS saw the texts and did nothing about the woman who allowed contact with young girls with her partner who was not approved. She is still a carer and has just had a baby to this man, as well as having a few other children to other relationships.
    • I'll clarify here, I'm labeled because I am a single mum, I have kids in care running to my house and I help them when they do. These kids are not in school and have not been for ages. They all have bad habits, sniffing, smoking, drinking
      and doing drugs, when they arrive, most are filthy and neglected. First thing i do is make them shower, give them clean clothes, feed them and while they are eating find out whats going on. I then let FACS know i have them here. If they are left here, I put them in school, and enforce my no drugs no grog rules. I have a partner of 3 years, as my own children were under orders when we started going out, FACS demanded he be checked before he had contact with my children that had been returned to me for more than 3 months. My partner had a Police check done which he paid for,so we could date, we weren't even living together! Just because he visited me and the children Might be there when he came round, FACS made their demand. He is also a former FACS foster carer as well, but gave it up due to ill health at the time. Neither of us drink or take drugs, we both work. Just so FACS and their carer's look like they are doing their job and these kids are just running away because they are Bad or because they want to drink etc, they have to blame someone, after all they cannot blame their own system can they?
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