We need to be very clear. The Tories don’t care that the most vulnerable children in society have been exploited and abused. They are not even that interested in saving money.
BBC Newsnight’s coverage on 3 July was part of the propaganda to justify the continued attack on working-class people.
We should remember the way that the media respond when children from wealthier backgrounds go missing. If looked-after children received comparable column inches, papers would be full of pictures of missing children on a daily basis.
The tragic fact is that 2,036 separate “missing from care” episodes were reported in 2010. Those are only the episodes that were reported. Up to two-thirds of local authorities failed to meet their legal requirements in proper recording. That is a huge number of children. The number will only increase as children coming into care increases.
If we look at how sex workers are treated, many of whom experienced the care system as children, it confirms that the Tories are happy to criminalise those already living in dire situations with few or no choices. Many of the services accessed by these men and women and children have been decimated by recent cuts.
So, with limited specific services to help support adults and children who experience exploitation and abuse, children’s care workers find themselves trying to implement difficult decisions without guidance from experts.
This raises a complex problem. On one hand, Ofsted and the government have a huge issue with restriction of liberty and freedom of our children. There are clear guidelines about when restriction of liberty and freedom can be applied.
I’m sure nobody is naive enough to think that our homes are all Tracy Beakerish. Our kids are angry, sad and often very challenging. But most staff will tolerate a huge amount of violence towards themselves before stepping in to physically restrain a child; more often than not they will only do that because the child is putting herself or himself in immediate danger.
On the other hand we are told it is the fault of care staff that our kids are not only going missing but many are being groomed. We are blamed for even letting these kids out of the front door.
Are we to lock these victims up, and in effect criminalise them?
On the premise that these two massive contractions are at the centre of this debate, it is logical to surmise that what the government wants to do is use child exploitation to whack well-organised workers who care deeply about the children they look after. This epic tragedy is going to be used as the Tories’ Trojan horse, driven into local authority care homes with the intention to sell them off to the cheapest bidder.
As a worker in a children’s home I find it difficult not to take the accusation of neglect very personally. I have lost count of my sleepless nights worrying about kids that have not come home. Staff go above and beyond their job descriptions on a daily basis trying to safeguard children, following abusers, trying to see car registration plates or knocking on doors with the intention of trying to convince the children to come back with you.
Staff who have had their pay slashed and conditions changed will still go out and try to protect children, of course they will. But the slashing of services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services pushes our role well outside the job description already. Training is never a priority when budgets are cut and is always bottom of the priority list when any service is sold off.
Collective responsibility for all children in society would be the first step. Stopping the process of criminalising children will help.
Privatising homes is not going to stop child exploitation. Neither will attacking working-class people and our children.
Get the market out of children's care
By Rosie Huzzard
On the Newsnight programme (3 July) about scandals of sexual exploitation of children who wander from care homes, Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton claimed that there is no way to manage children’s homes other than through privately managed services.
Nevertheless, he said, the local authority is to blame for poor quality service for not managing the private providers properly!
Whilst local authorities remain responsible for dishing out the cash to fund outsourced services, they are also asked to do so on as cheap a budget as possible.
Companies tender for contracts from the council and the one who can do it on the tightest budget usually wins, which inevitably means worse service.
You can’t pay people minimum wage, train them insufficiently, make them work ridiculous hours with shoddy facilities, and expect an excellent service. Recognising and acting on safeguarding concerns takes training and time.
Loughton’s argument was that local authorities should be improving quality of care for children by moving them to safe neighbourhoods. But safe usually means wealthier, and the care providers will not provide services in these areas because the properties are too expensive.
Market competition shouldn’t be a factor in care of vulnerable people, and this show had damning proof that one in five children who are sexually exploited are in care.
Loughton is right about one thing — in order for child exploitation to decrease, we must improve the quality of service.
But that cannot be done while services are being cut, squeezed and privatised.