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New research from the Children’s Commissioner’s office found the number of children in care aged 13 or over rose by 21% between 2013 and 2018, while the number aged five or under fell by 15%. The study showed there were 25% more over-16s entering care during 2017/18 than 2013/14, a bigger increase than for any other age group. As a result, nearly a quarter of children in care (23%) are now aged over 16. A further two-fifths (39%) are aged 10 to 15.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, stated that services were struggling to cope with the increase in the number of teenagers within the care system due to the fact that they are more likely to require specialist support. Teenagers, in particular, are vulnerable to running away from home, trafficking, drug misuse and sexual exploitation. Such teenagers require a high level of intervention and support to protect them from harm.
Anne Longfield stated:- “There are an increasing number of teenage children in the care system and too many of them are ‘pinballing’ around the system, changing home and family, school and social worker….Often they have the most complex and expensive needs. In one local authority, 20% of the entire children’s services budget is being spent on just 10 children. This is completely unsustainable.”
In addition, the research showed that older children in care had much higher levels of instability and were about 80% more likely than the national average to have two or more changes of home within a year. Ms Longfield commented “The result is a care system that is struggling to cope and which in turn is not providing the stability that many highly vulnerable children need.”
The cuts to budgets of many Local Authorities have had a profound effect upon children in the care system, the comments of the Children’s Commissioner highlight the true impact of such cuts upon society’s most vulnerable. It is clear that further investment and support is required in order to protect our most vulnerable from risk of the most serious harm.