Care home reforms aim to halt child sex abuse
The government has published plans to combat the sexual exploitation of children in care homes in England by gangs.
The move acts on recommendations made by the deputy children's commissioner in a report on sexual exploitation.
The conviction this year of nine men in a child sex ring sparked concerns about the safety of children's homes.
Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "These are big changes to a system, which has been letting down too many."
In May nine men were jailed for being part of a child sex ring in Rochdale - one of the girls was in care at the time and all were said to have been known to social services at some point.
There is a high density of care homes in Margate, Rochdale, Blackpool and Worthing - large properties in these areas tend to be cheaper.
The new measures announced include new regulations to make it far harder to place children in care homes outside their home boroughs, and plans to streamline data to get a clearer picture of who goes missing from care.
Ministers also pledged a wide-ranging review of all aspects of the quality and effectiveness of children's homes, including management, ownership and staffing.
A working group will consider
- why some local authorities send children to homes outside their own borough
- whether such placements can meet children's needs
- how well the quality of care is monitored
- whether areas such as Rochdale where there are high concentrations of children's homes are really the best "places for bringing up our most vulnerable looked after children".
Ministers also plan a second working group to examine how best to improve the quality of children's homes and staff skills.
Mr Loughton said: "We want to get rid of an 'out of sight, out of mind' culture which sees residential care as a last resort, instead of protecting vulnerable young people and giving them the best possible start in life."
Deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz had been asked by ministers to produce an accelerated report on findings emerging from her ongoing child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups inquiry, ahead of more detailed findings due in September.
That report suggests growing evidence that children in care are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and that although most victims live in their family home, a disproportionate number are in residential care.
It accepts that some residential homes do a good job but says too many are failing.
The findings include evidence that some homes are targeted by abusers and that some victims are being forced to recruit other children for abuse.
The report says there is evidence of abuse across England in urban, rural and metropolitan areas, of both boys and girls aged as young as 10, from all ethnic backgrounds and including disabled children.
Ms Berelowitz said: "Children have told me of being abducted, threatened, serially raped and subjected to other forms of violence resulting in them feeling worthless and losing all sense of self respect."
"Tragically this is too often compounded by adults refusing to believe what is happening. They must be taken seriously if we are to uncover the truth and protect them; doubting them only reinforces their sense of despair and abandonment."
Last month a report by MPs revealed up to 10,000 children went missing from care last year.
Ann Coffey MP, chair of the parliamentary group which produced that report, welcomed plans to limit the numbers put in children's homes outside their home boroughs, something she said had effectively become an "export trade".
Tom Rahilly, head of the NSPCC's looked after children programme, said: "Staff must be able to identify the signs of all types of abuse, and therapy must be available to all young victims.
"The issue of sending children miles away from their communities, without proper support, must also be addressed."
A spokesman for Ofsted, which monitors standards in children's homes, welcomed the government's commitment to reform, adding that its own inspections were constantly reviewed.