Department for Education statistics show that there was a 78 per cent increase nationally in children placed in children’s homes away from their borough, up from 2,250 on 31 March 2012 to 4,020 on 31 March 2016.
The figures also show that the number of incidents of children going missing from children’s homes has risen from 28,570 in 2015 to 43,000 in England in 2016.
The total number of looked-after children increased from 67,050 (31 March 2012) to 70,440 (31 March 2016). During the same period the number of children placed in children’s homes increased from 5,930 to 7,600.
The figures were obtained in a parliamentary answer to Ann Coffey, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Missing Children and Adults, who said that children are more likely to go missing if they are placed away from their local area.
Ms Coffey, the Labour MP for Stockport, said, ‘These latest figures from the Department for Education are bitterly disappointing because the Government pledged to reduce out of borough placements four years ago.
‘All the evidence shows that vulnerable children sent to live in placements outside their own local authority boundaries are at high risk of going missing and coming to harm.’
Ms Coffey previously highlighted her concerns in a a report on child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, 'Real Voices – Are they being heard?', published earlier this year, which revealed that half of missing incidents in Greater Manchester were generated by looked-after children.
There were ‘strong proven links between going missing and child sexual exploitation’ and the National Crime Agency also reported that children groomed to sell drugs were often listed as a missing person, she said.
Ms Coffey added, 'There are additional difficulties in keeping children safe when they are placed away from their local area. It is more challenging to support children with complicated needs who may have repeated missing episodes.
'We need further research to explore links between the increase in the number of children being placed many miles from home and the rise in missing incidents.
‘We need to know urgently why there are so many missing episodes from children’s homes and what part out of borough placements play?’
The Children’s Society urged councils to do much more to ensure placements were in the best interests of the child and that when a move away from their home area was necessary they received support to maintain regular contact with family and friends in their home area when this was appropriate. Children should also receive Return Home Interviews if they go missing to find out why this has happened and to make sure they get the help they need, the charity said.
Commenting on the figures, Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the Children’s Society, said, ‘Children in care are some of the most vulnerable in society and should only be placed outside of their home local authority area if it is necessary to keep them safe and well.
‘However, we know that in many cases children are being placed far from their family and friends because there are not enough appropriate placements in their local area. When children are placed in either residential care or foster placements some distance from home they are more likely to go missing from home with all the risks that brings – including child sexual abuse and other types of exploitation.
‘It is vital that all councils share information both with one another and with the police when a child in care moves between local authority boundaries, including about any risks faced by the child.’