The number of children who go missing from foster care has risen by almost 20% in the last year, according to Ofsted’s latest statistics.
The figures showed the number of reported incidents had increased by around 19%, to 9,480, while the number of children involved had risen by 18%, to 3,151.
Ofsted found a particular problem amongst independent fostering service placements. Although independent fostering services placed 31% of fostered children they accounted for 56% of the number of children who went missing.
Hundreds missing for more than a week
More than half of the children were missing for less than 24 hours, but a third (34%) were missing for up to six days, and 9% (287) were missing for more than a week. Of these, 126 children were missing for longer than 28 days over the course of the year. As of 31 March 2012 there were 46 foster children still missing from care.
Ofsted’s deputy chief inspector, John Goldup, said the watchdog is investigating the issue in more depth and will publish a report on its findings next year.
“A child missing from care is a concern for everyone,” said Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board. He said councils want to see “more joined-up working with the police, the heath service, independent care homes and other agencies to start tackling this more effectively”.
Goldup said he was encouraged by the 7% increase in the number of foster carers, however, and that 16% more children stayed in foster care past their 18th birthday.
First adoption statistics
Ofsted also released its first adoption statistics this week, allowing comparisons between the performance of voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) and local authorities.
A decision to approve or refuse adoption applicants was made within eight moths in 54% of applications to local authorities, and in 53% of applications to VAA’s.
Local authorities matched children with families within seven months in more than half of all cases (54%), while VAA’s managed the same time-frame in 40% of cases.
In more than a third of cases VAA’s took more than 11 months to find a match while local authorities had 26% of cases taking the same time. Fewer VAA’s responded to Ofsted’s survey than local authorities, however.
Of the siblings placed for adoption, 82% were placed together. Nearly a fifth (18%) were not placed together, however, even though they were assessed as needing to be.
Simmonds said: “It’s encouraging that these results show the majority of adoptive parents are being quickly matched with children, and heartening to see one in five people who contact councils making the life changing decision to become adoptive parents, twice the success rate of other adoption agencies.
“However, it would be misleading to simply select a certain figure as a barometer of a council’s approach to fostering and adoption as this fails to recognise the often different and complicated circumstances around each and every child.”
Councils fail to keep figures on children missing from care
More information: Report from the Joint inquiry into children who go missing from care