The number of times children were recorded as going missing from foster care rose by almost a third last year, statistics from Ofsted have revealed.
In its annual report on foster care in England, published this week, Ofsted said children were recorded as going missing from foster care 17,175 times in 2014-15, a 29% increase on the previous year.
More than 5,000 children were recorded as missing in 2014-15, an increase of 19% from 2013-14.
“There were around a quarter of instances where the agency did not know why the child had gone missing; this was particularly the case for [local authorities],” the report said. Ofsted said the trend was likely to reflect improved reporting on missing children.
Sexual exploitation risk
Last year, 3% of all children and young people in placements were reported as being at risk of child sexual exploitation, and 1% were reported as subjected to it, the figures revealed.
Unplanned endings for children in foster care happened in 24 hours in one fifth of cases, the statistics showed. Almost half of children whose placement ended unexpectedly had them ended at the foster carer’s request, and in two fifths of cases these children were in independent fostering agencies.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said the statistics should be a “wakeup call for Government”.
“Foster carers are at the forefront of the fight to raise the outcomes of fostered children as well as protecting them from child sexual exploitation, and, as such, they need ongoing improved support and development so that they can continue to perform this vital protective role,” he said.
As figures showed a reduction of fostering households, Williams said the government should invest in foster care “as heavily as they have invested in adoption”.
Between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015, 85,890 children and young people were in foster placements, a 2% increase on the previous year. Figures published earlier this year revealed the looked-after child population was at its highest level for 30 years in 2014-15.
“The Government recently invested £4.5 million in setting up regional adoption agencies during 2015/16, while in 2013 fostering received £750,000 over two years to recruit foster carers,” Williams said.
He added: “This huge disparity, while a rising number of children are entering the care system, cannot continue if we’re to create a fair and just society where every fostered child and young person has the opportunity to flourish that The Fostering Network believes that they deserve. We know that foster care works, and research shows that children and young people in foster care have better outcomes when compared to their peers on the edge of care.”
The number of children remaining in ‘Staying Put’ placements increased 2% last year, the figures showed, and Williams said it was “an investment that will pay off in abundance”.