Children who go missing from care

England's children's homes are failing to protect vulnerable youngsters who run away or go missing, a new report by the all-party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children and adults has warned.

The report, which can be downloaded from the website of the charity Missing People, calls for urgent action to prevent children being sent to live in areas up to hundreds of miles from their family, which is believed to be a major factor in causing some of them to run away.

Ann Coffey, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party group for runaway and missing children and adults, says: “There is a scandal going on in England involving children missing from care - and until recent cases of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and other places put the spotlight on this issue - it was pretty much going unnoticed.”

The report recommends that more weighting should be given to the management of missing incidents in Ofsted's inspections and also highlights a lack of training for professionals. One practitioner told the inquiry: "You can have someone looking after a young person who, the day before, their experience may have been working at a deli counter in Asda."

Dr Peter McParlin, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society who himself grew up in the care system, says:

“Essentially we are into 40 years of lack of care for missing and runaway children from care.

“The pressure of finding good foster homes and local residential homes has meant that children are displaced geographically from their essential neighbourhood and from their siblings in care. 

They are also unequally treated by the law, finding themselves with far more criminal justice system involvement for what are not essentially crimes but a manifestation of their fractured identity and inadequate care provision.

“It is time to hand over from Ofsted the duty of regulation and inspection. The work here is specific and focused and in many ways outside the regular skill area of  Ofsted.

“The lip service of ‘now we are going to tackle it’ is very tired. It has been used ever since Marie Colwell and has now outrun its creditability.

 We need, as Ivor Frank has suggested, a specialist professional on the side of the  in care child. The term 'looked after' fails to have any real meaning and is quintessentially a travesty.”