Inquiry promised after children in care housed in caravan parks

Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield has promised an investigation into adequate provision for children in care after it emerged rising numbers of teenagers are being housed in bed and breakfast rooms, bedsits and caravans without live-in support.

Anne Longfield
Anne Longfield

Emergency accommodation is in short supply, councils have argued, in the wake of a finding that there has been a 28 per cent increase in young people being placed in independent living accommodation since 2010.

It follows an investigation by The Yorkshire Post on Saturday which revealed a steep rise in the number of looked after children being reported missing from care, amid fears they were running away after being placed far from their homes and families.

Ms Longfield, who has promised an investigation, said: “None of us would choose for own children to live alone in caravan parks, B&Bs or adult hostels, yet I often hear from young people in care who have been dumped into sub-standard housing under the guise of ‘independent living’.”

The new study, by BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates and The Observer, found the number of looked-after children placed in independent living situations by local authorities in England rose from 2,420 in 2010 to 3,090 in 2018. Four councils admitted placing up to 14 children on caravan parks, with 17 placing 133 children in bed and breakfasts.

Most councils said they did not record such figures, while council directors stated that independent placements were used to cope with growing numbers of 16 and 17-year-olds in care. Emergency accommodation, they added, is in short supply.

One teenager, identified only as Daisy, had said she was 16 when a social worker gave her £4 for her dinner and took her to a bed and breakfast in Plymouth.

It was only supposed to be for a weekend, but she ended up staying for 19 weeks, too afraid to use the bathrooms at night as she had to share them with a group of young men, a couple and a much older man.

Daisy, now aged 19, said she started drinking and taking drugs to fit in, and saw her health deteriorate before eventually she came out of the experience “in an awful way” as “a very damaged girl”.

Enver Solomon, of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, said there was a shortage of supported emergency accommodation and foster placements for teenagers, and a lot of 16 and 17-year-olds are “too vulnerable” to be left in independent accommodation.

He also noted they are seeing “worse conditions in more and more concerning” types of accommodation, such as bed and breakfast and caravan parks.

In Yorkshire, it emerged on Saturday, a looked-after child is reported missing every hour, amid further fears they are running away from care after being placed in services far from home.

This is a particular challenge in children’s homes, MP Ann Coffey, chair of an All-Party Parliamentary Group into missing children told The Yorkshire Post, and one which may be attributed to a shortage of local provision and space for them to be looked after.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has said budget cuts, alongside an increase in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds in the care system, had left some councils struggling at a time when they were over-spending to try and ensure they meet children’s needs.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “The law is clear that local authorities must provide accommodation that meets children’s needs.”