Thurrock Council raise concerns over accomodation for vulnerable children

By Local Democracy Reporter
Steve Shaw

Thurrock Council Offices

CONCERNS have been raised that several providers of supported accommodation for vulnerable children are failing to meet council standards as their only goal is financial gain.

The issue was highlighted during a meeting on Tuesday night where it was revealed that Thurrock Council had rejected more than 75 per cent of children’s accommodation providers while looking to expand their placements.

The accommodation allows vulnerable children to live independently in hostels or sheltered housing while also being given support for things such as education or employment. Often it is used when children are transitioning from foster care or residential care toward living independently.

Thurrock has been looking at ways to expand the number of placements available in or around the borough but of the 53 providers considered, 40 failed to meet the required standards.

Sheila Murphy, assistant director of Children’s Services, said: “The criteria is clearly set out and the documentation is like a phone book, my view is that this is a reflection of the market nationally. We found there were providers that had clearly set up for financial gain so they were moving from an unrelated industry and into this and it was clear it was due to the financial gain for some of them.

“In the past and what we’ve seen from some other local authorities is that this would be enough but we have set our support standards high.”

She added that the council has also had to end contracts with six providers in the past 18 months and stressed that not all of these were based in Thurrock.

Council figures show that there are 285 children currently in the care of the council and 75 per cent of those in supported accommodation are within 20 miles of the borough.

However, the number placed more than 30-miles away has grown from 16 per cent to 19 percent in the past 12 months.

An Ofsted report published this month revealed that across the East of England, the average distance children are placed in children’s homes from their hometowns is 50 miles.

Andrew Fellowes, NSPCC Public Affairs Manager, said: “Isolating vulnerable children from their friends, family and community by propelling them half way across the country is perilous.

“The void left by their vital support network can all too easily be exploited, leaving children at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation. We also know that these children are more likely to go missing.

“There needs to be coordinated action from national and local governments to provide high quality accommodation options close to where children live.”

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