The government has rejected a call by the education select committee to commission research into restricting local authorities from placing a child more than 20 miles from home.
The committee’s report on residential children’s care suggested distant placements put children at greater risk of falling through gaps in services and of running away. In its official response, the government said it did not believe any moves to consider a ban on placements over 20 miles would help resolve “core issues” around the quality of local authority placement commissioning.
“The decision to place a child must remain based on their needs at that time irrespective of where that placement is. The solution we and the sector continue to work towards is ensuring sufficient local provision to accommodate the needs of the children in care,” the government’s response said.
The government’s response said that the law was already sufficiently clear that a child should be placed within their local area when it was in their best interests. It also drew attention to already-enacted regulatory changes that mean directors of children’s services must approve distant placements, as well as forthcoming revisions to statutory guidance setting out factors that local authorities will have to consider in assessing whether a placement is ‘distant’.
Data released last week by Ofsted revealed that 17 per cent of children placed in homes, and one in 20 of all looked-after children, are placed more than 50 miles from home.
Elsewhere in its response, the government also rejected calls to establish a national strategy for care provision.
It said: “The government remains of the view that there should be no attempt to define at a national level what homes should look like. Our role is to create the conditions in which quality provision – residential or otherwise – will thrive.”
It also declined proposals to develop a protocol for children’s homes mirroring the arrangement with schools whereby staff, rather than the police, have responsibility for dealing with on-site behavioural incidents in the first instance.
“As the police already have discretion about how they should deal with incidents involving looked after children, we do not agree that national prescription, in the form of a protocol, represents the best means of responding to this important issue,” it said.