Monday, 12 November 2012

The other abuse of looked after children

Far be it for me to plough in with commentary on the BBC's woes, Jimmy Saville or paedophilia but several years ago I pitched to Lord Adonis, in his old post at the Department for Education, a proposal for, maybe, just maybe, improving the lot of looked after children. Needless to say it didn't meet the Department's priorities and while the good minister and his aides were interested, they respectively declined the opportunity to take it further.

Don't panic I'm not going to pitch it here. But all this talk about care home abuses got me wondering whether the plight of the main run of so-called looked after children had improved at all since I did all the research for that proposal back in 2008.

And I have to report things still don't look too good.

In 2011, there were over 89,000 looked after children in the UK of which about 65,000 were in England alone. Over half of these have been taken into care as a result of abuse or serious neglect. So they've not exactly had a great start to lives (and that, incidentally adds a further layer of poignancy when they are abused again in care). These numbers had been falling over the past 30year but since 2008 (co-incidentally when I had that meeting) they have been on the rise again.

About 13% of these unfortunate kids stay in care for more than five years. They're probably the most damaged ones and they're also likely to be the targets of choice for the abusers. Now, I'm not saying it's the same 13% but curiously, this is precisely the figure for looked after children who end up the subject of a serious case review, ie, they've been seriously injured or killed. It sends shivers down my spine just to think about it.

It's all pretty depressing isn't it? But what about the 87% who get through without this happening? On an educational front, things don't look too great. A quarter leave school without any qualifications. That compares with less than 1% of all school leavers. A further 25% attain fewer than 5A*-Cs at GCSE, compared with less than 7% of all 16 year olds. And only 7% make it into higher education compared with over 45% of all school leavers. The only statistic where looked-after children don't seem so out of kilter is for the so called NEETs (ie young people not in employment, education or training): 33% versus 20%. But that's hardly something to crow about given the appalling problem of youth unemployment at the moment anyway.

Back in 2008 I discovered that looked after girls were two and a half times more likely to get pregnant than other girls and looked after children in general were also two and a half times more likely to offend. I haven't been able to update those figures but I doubt they've changed much.

Now, if you ask me these figures speak of a different form of child abuse. These kids, mostly for no fault of their own, are taken into care and then dumped. I know there are lots of peope out there with the best intentions trying to help individual kids. But there's a systemic problem here. I cannot imagine what it takes to be one of those 7% who makes it into higher education but maybe we should ask them. Perhaps we should stop blaming lack of educational attainment on the fact that many have special needs too. Seriously, if the vast majority make it out into independent living of some sort, and they do, then their special needs can't have been severe enough to have prevented them from getting a few GCSEs.

So, when we're focussing on all those sad historic cases of child abuse, perhaps we could spare a thought about the routine daily abuse that's going on, and maybe someone would like to take a long, hard and unbiased look at what's gone wrong.

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