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Christian charity warns of children being invisible to care system as report reveals thousands placed in tents and caravans

by Tola Mbakwe

Rev Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Charitable Trust, has said too many children in England’s care system have “fallen through the cracks”.

It’s after an investigation's found thousands of children in care in England have been living in potentially unsafe accommodation. Over the last two years, hundreds of young people have been placed in tents, caravans and even barges.

“I think it's that as a society, we have just never invested in those who drop through the cracks… Those who fall out of traditional family care, those who fall out of traditional mainstream education,” he said.

“So we have huge numbers of children who just go invisible to the system. Society’s just not been interested in their narrative and not interested in these issues.”

In February last year, the Government launched a consultation on banning under-16s from being placed in unregulated accommodation.

Regulations will be laid in Parliament on Friday for the ban to come into force in September, as part of the Government’s response to its consultation.

Statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) suggest that 660 looked after children under the age of 16 were placed in independent or in semi-independent living accommodation across the year 2018-19.

On Friday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced placing vulnerable children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will become illegal from September.

Ofsted will be given extra powers to take enforcement action against illegal unregistered children’s homes under reforms.

But the Children’s Commissioner for England has called for the ban on unregulated accommodation for under-16s to be extended to include older teenagers as she said they will still be at risk of exploitation.

Anne Longfield warned that some teenage children in care live in “dangerous accommodation”, including hostels or caravan parks, and 17-year-olds can be “easy prey” for people who abuse or exploit children.

However, the Department for Education has said independent or semi-independent provision can be the right option for some older children where it is high-quality and meets their needs.

Rev Chalke, who’s been working for decades on developing suitable housing options for young people leaving foster care, said children’s homes are a possible solution.

“Whilst it's wonderful that a family might be willing to take a 16-year old in, that 16 year old is beginning to develop a desire for freedom and to fit in with one regime after another regime after another regime doesn't work,” he said.

“So what we really need, I believe, is regulated children's homes where there's a recognition that this child is growing, where they're not just put in with a family that they've never seen.

“Taking a child on is a hard thing to do, especially at that age. Often these relationships break down, and then the child runs away and then social services end up trying to track them, etc.

“We need a whole new revolution, a new way of looking at 16 and 17 year old children and their care.”

Ministers will also introduce national standards for unregulated accommodation for older children in care or care leavers, those who are aged 16 and over, to ensure the settings are consistently high quality.

Mr Williamson has also announced that plans will be developed to support local authorities in creating more places in children’s homes amid pressures on some councils to find the right placement for a child.

He said: “Vulnerable children under 16 are too young for the type of accommodation that provides a place to stay but not the care and support that they need.

“The action taken today, supported by the sector and in response to their views, is an important step in making sure children in care are placed in settings that give them the highest chances of success.

“We know that for some older young people, independent or semi-independent accommodation can be right in helping them transition to adult life but these settings need to be consistently high quality.

“We cannot be complacent about the standards we expect to be met for children in our care.”

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