Surrey children have been placed in 119 different local authority areas around the United Kingdom as well as abroad.
Now campaigners want to bring them back closer to home.
Half of Surrey’s 985 children in care are being placed outside county borders due to lack of accommodation in Surrey, and the GLP is concerned about the impact this may be having on the county’s children. So are some Liberal Democrat county councillors.
Earlier this year the organisation which won a High Court challenge against the Cabinet Office over a £560,000 Covid-19 contract awarded with no competitive tenders – is now bringing a judicial review against ‘Your Surrey.’
“The most vulnerable children in our society are increasingly disconnected from their support networks, often without any advance warning or preparation.”
Mr Maugham claims the authority is “not actively seeking to manage the market to secure in-area provision”. However, the county council claims it is doing all it reasonably can to secure local provision. It has recently provided homes for 10 autistic young people in a purpose-built unit in Alfold. However, the move was steeped in controversy over the handling of the project.
A GLP petition asking the council to “Stop sending children in care to live miles away from everything they know” has been signed by over 800 people.
Fiona White, Liberal Democrat Guildford County councillor who sits on the committee that scrutinises children’s services, said:
“It’s traumatic enough to be taken away from your family without isolating them completely from everything they know. It is a timely reminder that the council’s children’s services have only recently been taken out of special measures. It’s not as though they’re just over the border in Hampshire or Sussex, it’s a long distance we’re talking about.
“If children are taken into care for whatever good reason, unless it’s a safety issue, you need to keep them as close as you can to their existing relationships, grandparents, aunt and uncle and so on. They’re being housed so far away it’s really difficult for those relationships to continue, that’s what worries me, that relationships break down.”
Lib Dem Councillor Liz Townsend, who only recently joined the county’s ranks said:
“As corporate parents, we have a responsibility to support our children, and at present, we are letting our children down. We have empty buildings, one here in Cranleigh that is not being used. I am shocked by the lack of action in prioritising this critical issue.”
Cllr Townsend who also sits on the children’s services committee said the council’s ‘Your Fund’ committee has borrowed £100m, with debt and interest being shouldered by the taxpayer to fund community projects. Roll up, roll up for the Big Surrey Giveaway.
She said whilst we are not prejudging the benefit of these projects, officers resources do seem to be being thrown at this fund, with the latest promo being postcards distributed to all councillors to drum up business, whilst Surrey’s cared for children don’t seem to be getting quite as much attention!
Following a children’s services inspection, Ofsted criticised that in 2018 was “there are not enough foster carers in the county”, meaning 46 per cent of fostered children had to be sent to live elsewhere.
The situation was even worse for those in a care home, with 57 per cent of them housed outside of Surrey.
The GLP is also bringing action against Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who they claim has failed in his duty by not “intervening”.
Guildford’s MP, Angela Richardson is a Private Parliamentary Secretary to the SoS for Education, but has, so far as we know, remained silent on the subject though many of the children affected live in her constituency.
Of the five councils in total, the GLP is taking action against, including Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex and Derby City. Surrey’s has the highest proportion of children sent elsewhere.
Surrey’s Sufficiency Strategy 2020-2025 says it has focused on increasing the numbers of our…
“looked after children who are able to live within the county and close to their communities”. Capital funding had also been secured for two new children’s homes, due for completion by June 2022.
A 2014 Ofsted report on the sexual exploitation of children concluded distant placements meant it was more likely for children to go missing and made safeguarding more difficult.
GLP has so far raised nearly £43,500 of the £50,000 court costs it needs. Donations can be made to the not-for-profit organisation A court date has not yet been set.
In February GLP took Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove to court, as the minister in charge of the Cabinet Office. The judge ruled it was unlawful for them to have given a contract to carry out focus groups to Dominic Cummings’ friends at Public First without letting other companies bid