When a family moves to a different area it’s a huge undertaking, with much thought going into whether it’s the right decision for everyone.
For the children, it’s making sure there are good schools nearby, activities and clubs where they can go to make friends, and transport links so they can get about. It can be a massive upheaval so parents will make every effort to ease the transition and to make sure the children feel secure, loved, and reassured.
For children in care, it’s a different story. Children in the care system can be moved miles away from the area they know – with little or no thought about how that child will feel – and all too often it’s happening simply because there are no appropriate options closer by that they can move to. They could end up anywhere in the country with a bed space, and sometimes that’s over 500 miles away.
These are the findings of new research we published this week which shows how many children in care are moved, often without warning, far from the people and places that matter to them.
For some children it’s right for them to be moved away to a different area, to keep them safe, protect them from exploitation, or to move them closer to other family members. But more and more children are being moved far away when it is not in their best interests simply because of a lack of suitable places in their local area, compounding the trauma that put them into care in the first place.
Our research team contacted the Department for Education and all 151 local authorities in England to ask how many children in care were moved and how far away. The responses showed that on average, a child in care in England is placed more than 18 miles from their home area – this is equivalent to the distance between Birmingham and Coventry. That means being separated from friends, from brothers and sisters, from other family and from the place they are familiar with. It can mean a taxi ride to and from school every day on their own – if the child stays at the same school – sometimes up to an hour each way.
Friends can’t visit in the evening or weekends because they now live too far away. Visits from their social worker can drop off because the distance is too great. These moves can have a harmful and devastating impact on young lives and children tell us it makes them feel lonely, isolated, and stigmatised.
Some young people have told us of being moved from the city to rural areas, where they can’t get a bus to college. Or moving to a predominantly-white area when they’ve come from a diverse community, making them feel even more isolated and alone.
It’s also not just where they move to – but when. We’ve been told of such moves taking place when a child has just chosen their options for their GCSEs, or when they’re just about to receive mental health support after being on a waiting list. They then go to the bottom of the list in a new town, while all the time learning to live with different carers in a strange house.
These children are being let down by a care system in urgent need of change. We have record numbers of children in care right now and simply not enough safe and suitable options that will allow them to stay close. This is a national issue facing local authorities across the country – and without urgent Government action, we are concerned that it is likely to get worse with more children moved miles from their home area
There are over 82,000 children in care, more than ever before, with numbers continuing to rise. Please join me in demanding urgent action to keep children close to the people and places that matter to them. Because all children deserve the love and stability they need to heal and thrive.
Katharine is the CEO of Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers. For 30 years, the charity has stood shoulder to shoulder with care-experienced young people, helping them get the support they need right now and changing the system for future generations.
The new #GoneTooFar campaign seeks to keep children in care close to the people and places they know and love.