450 children died in care in decade to 2021

The Times newspaper reported this week (7 August) that 450 children looked after by local authorities died in the decade to 2021. 50 of the children were aged 16 or 17 and living in unregulated accommodation at the time of their deaths. In a comment piece in response, Article 39’s Director Carolyne Willow criticised the government’s ‘care-less’ arrangements for older children in care:

The Department for Education told The Times it was “ending the use of unregulated provision for 16 and 17-year olds”. This is a play on words unbecoming of the seriousness of the findings.

From October, it will be unlawful for councils to place children aged 16 and 17 in properties that are not registered with Ofsted. But the homes will not have a duty to provide day-to-day care for this age group. Ministers have not even ruled out Ofsted registering caravans, bedsits, and shared houses with adult strangers for these older children.

A review by the Children’s Commissioner for England in 2020 found that children were “frequently living alongside vulnerable young adults (usually aged up to 25) battling their own difficulties, including homelessness, mental ill health, addiction, or even transitioning from prison back into the community”.

End the scandal of vulnerable children getting no real care – Carolyne Willow, The Times, 8 August 2023

These revelations come as Article 39 continues to await the outcome of a tribunal hearing in May 2023, where we sought publication of a report by the national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel concerning 48 incidents where children entered care after years of abuse or neglect within their families, and later died or suffered serious harm in care.

The Department for Education refused to release the report following a freedom of information request from Article 39. It told the Information Commissioner that the Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel had shared the report with the Department for Education “in the strictest confidence”, and that releasing it would damage relations between the department and the Panel. This was accepted by the Information Commissioner (decision notice here).

At May’s tribunal, Article 39 stressed the importance of transparency in child protection and rejected the proposition that very experienced child protection professionals who serve on the panel would refuse to share information with the Department for Education in future, if the report on the 48 incidents is put into the public domain.