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Children's home locations revealed
The location of all children's homes in the UK have been revealed for the first time, showing that three in every 10 youngsters in care are more than 20 miles away from where they come from.
Local authorities are revealed to be spending £4,135 per child per week on care places in data released by the Department for Education (DfE). Homes are also "disproportionately" located in certain areas, the DfE claims, with more than half found in the North West (25%), the West Midlands (17%) and the South East (13%).
Michael Gove lashed out at "absurd" secrecy rules which may have left vulnerable children exposed to the threat posed by paedophile groups. Writing in the Telegraph, the Education Secretary said red tape prevented police being given basic information about youngsters, leaving them at risk of "gangs intent on exploiting these vulnerable children".
He told the paper he had been met with a "wall of silence" when he tried to find out about children's homes, with his department lacking basic information about their locations and who was responsible for them. The regulator Ofsted was barred from giving information to the police by data protection rules and other "bewildering regulations", he said.
But he added: "There was one group of people, however, who did seem to possess all the information: the gangs intent on exploiting these vulnerable children. They knew where the homes were; they knew how to contact the children: at the fish and chip shop, the amusement arcade, in the local park, or just by hanging around outside the houses.
"In the name of 'protecting children' by officially 'protecting' their information we had ended up helping the very people we were supposed to be protecting them from. We shielded the children from the authorities who needed to be looking out for them."
Ellen Broome, policy director at the Children's Society, said: "As shown by the parliamentary inquiry we supported last year, many parts of the system are simply not working. Children are being placed miles from home into run-down areas, the quality of some care homes is unacceptable, and children who run away from care are not kept safe."
Barnardo's UK director of strategy Puja Darbari said: "It is scandalous that criminal gangs know the whereabouts of these young people while those who are meant to protect them do not. Barnardo's have long been calling for more accountability and justification when children are placed out of area. Greater scrutiny is needed on where children's homes are placed and the qualifications of care home staff. All children in their care must be effectively safeguarded."
Plans to allow Ofsted to veto new homes opening in "unsafe" areas near red light districts and high crime areas were announced in June. The schools' inspector would also be allowed to close schools in areas if they could not prove they were protecting children under plans opened for consultation.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC said: "Recent shocking cases of sexual exploitation - Oxford, Derby, Rochdale - demonstrate the horrific abuse experienced by some children and young people. This transparency may help to highlight where risk lies and make people take action. But we also need to improve the quality of practice in our children's homes."