Education & Family

More children missing from foster care

Unhappy teenager Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A child going missing from care is an indicator they may be in danger.

The number of incidents of children going missing from foster care in England rose by nearly a fifth last year, new statistics show.

Ofsted recorded 5,055 children as missing between April 2014 and March 2015, compared with 4,245 in the previous year - a 19% rise.

The number of missing incidents increased by 29%, to 17,175, between 2014-15 and 2013-14.

Ofsted said there were grave risks tied to children going missing from care.

The inspectorate defines "missing" as someone under the age of 18 who has run away from their foster placement, been abducted, or whose whereabouts is unknown.

The problem and dangers associated with children going missing from care were highlighted by the investigation into child sexual abuse in Rochdale.

Ann Coffey, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said: "Going missing is a key indicator that a child might be in great danger.

"When children go missing, they are at very serious risk of physical abuse, sexual exploitation and sometimes so desperate they will rob or steal to survive."

'Issue of concern'

Ofsted said the rise in cases of missing children was likely to reflect improved reporting around missing children.

The figures also showed children placed through independent fostering agencies were more likely to be reported as missing than those in council-run placements.

Ofsted found 55% of children reported as missing had been placed through an independent agency.

However, the number of missing incident reports from council fostering services increased by 40% between 2014-15 and the previous year.

Children were also going missing for longer periods during 2014-15 than previous years, particularly those missing from council-placed foster homes.

In 2014-15, 68% of children who were missing for more than 28 days were in council placements, compared with 60% in 2013-14.

'Grave risks'

Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted's national director for social care, said: "We continue to see an increase in the number and frequency of children in foster care who go missing.

"While the rise may be a result of better recording and awareness from services, this remains an issue of concern given the grave risks associated with children who go missing."

The data shows that in a quarter of reports, the reason for the missing incident was unknown.

Ofsted added "this was particularly the case" for council fostering services.

The latest figures also show there were 85,890 children and young people placed in foster care in 2014-15, up 2% on 2013-14.

Over the same period, the number of fostering households fell by 1%, while the use of family and friends as carers for looked-after children increased by 6%.

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