Care plan a ‘missed opportunity’ to confront county lines

9 Feb 23

Children in care remain at risk of gang exploitation unless the government develops a clear plan to effectively regulate private care providers – a plan missing from its new strategy – an expert has said. 

troubled teenager

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The lack of clear proposals to regulate the children’s care market in the Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy, published by the government last week  proposing greater financial oversight of providers, risks reversing progress made on removing gang influence over homes.

The plan outlined spending of £200m by 2025 on improving sector pay, hiring more social workers and piloting new family help services.

However, Sarah Parker, research and development officer at youth charity Catch22, criticised the plan saying it lacked changes to the oversight of homes, which is a key to reducing child exploitation.

“This strategy is a missed opportunity,” she said.

“There is a huge issue with insufficiency in the care market both in terms of foster carers and appropriate accommodation.  

“Preventing gangs from targeting vulnerable children is hard; as long as a child has a phone in their hand, they are accessible to people who wish to harm or exploit them.

“This is why children require care up to the age of 18, and some unregulated accommodation falls woefully short of that.”

Parker said the lack of funding to support mental health and exit from care is also harming the ability to tackle gang influence.

“They also need greater material and emotional support, and access to services and opportunities such as financial advice or help finding work,” she said.

“This is particularly true when it comes to young people living semi-independently.

“Lack of timely and adequate mental health support also makes children and young people more vulnerable to exploitation.”

Exploitation of children in care has become more prevalent in recent years, and the Children’s Society said the cost-of-living crisis could put more people in danger.

Research from the charity showed 51,000 children’s bank accounts were used for fraud in 2021 – a 21% increase on the previous year.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said fighting county lines crime remains a top priority, and pointed to a week of action in October during which forces arrested 1,300 people and seized £2.5m of drugs and £1m in cash.

“While shutting down active lines and catching the criminals behind the lines will continue to be a priority for policing, we are also continuing with our prevention and safeguarding elements, which are equally as important,” a NPCC spokesperson said.

“We have seen that 1,255 vulnerable adults and children have been safeguarded from these violent county lines criminals.

“They have been engaged with by police officers working closely with relevant services, agencies and charities, and referred to the most relevant partner agency for them so they can now look at a brighter future away from crime and violence.”

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