Kent's missing children in care investigated

County Hall, Maidstone
Image caption Kent County Council's head of children's services is to set up a working group

An investigation into why hundreds of children go missing while placed in care in Kent is to be held.

In 2011-12 more than 200 children were reported missing for more than 24 hours, with 11 not being found for three months or more.

Jenny Whittle, head of children's services at Kent County Council said children being placed far from home was exacerbating the problem.

She said there was a risk "sexual predators" may know where to find them.

The council said there were about 1,800 children in its care system. The 1,200 children placed in care in Kent from other areas remain the responsibility of their home local authority.

'Creating ghettos'

Ms Whittle said: "I am proposing to set up a working group of county councillors to really drill down to find out where these children are going missing from and to look into why they are going missing.

"We have got to have a real honesty about how and where councils are placing some very vulnerable children," she said.

"We do run the risk of creating ghettos where sexual predators know where to find these children.

"We have a duty to look at where ex-offenders are being placed and to put much more pressure on government to compel authorities to place children much closer to home.

Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said some children who had been placed far from home wanted to return to their friends, family and familiar surroundings.

"Some children are running away from something and others are running to something," he said.

"Generally we would want to keep children in their communities, close to their families and close to their schools and close to their friendships.

"Having lots of children being sent out of London and down to the coast in Kent is not generally a good idea and not something we should be looking to continue unless we really have to."

Figures for 2011-12 showed 219 children in care went missing for more than 24 hours.

There were 20 instances of children being missing for between one and three months, and 11 of children not being found for more than three months.

The Department for Education said it would be collecting national data on all children who run away.

A spokesman said: "A new regulation will mean children's homes should not be open in areas that are unsafe, and we are taking steps to improve the skills of care home workers so they are better able to identify risks and take action before children run away."

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