Steve McCabe MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers
Investing in early intervention measures for vulnerable children and supporting those on the edge of care could help them fulfil their potential whilst saving the country £7 billion over the next decade, a new report has found.
The report, ‘Lives Transformed, Potential Fulfilled’, highlights how deeply negative attitudes towards vulnerable young people in the care system must change to treat these children as people, instead of problems.
These damaging mindsets influence their futures, with looked after children:
- making up a quarter of the country’s homeless population.
- three times more likely to leave school before Higher Education than a child outside of the care system.
Key to tackling these issues is for the government to take a more active role in supporting vulnerable children, and much earlier on.
The new research, authored by a former Bank of England economist, finds that there is economic value to shifting mindsets and prioritising the welfare and wellbeing of vulnerable children.
By reducing the number of young people who enter the care system in the first instance with early interventions such as increased mentoring services, the taxpayer could save up to £7 billion in the decade to 2030.
The research found that the North East, North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber have above-average rates of children in care compared to the English national average. With the average annual cost of taking a child into the care system currently standing at nearly £60,000, should local authorities in these regions reduce their rates to the average (67 per 10,000 children), this could create a net saving of £7 billion to the taxpayer. This could lead to savings of:
- North West: £3.3 billion
- North East: £1.5 billion
- Yorkshire and the Humber: £0.8 billion
- West Midlands: £1.4 billion
Once a child is in the care system, they are two and half times more likely to be classed as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). This not only costs the public sector £77 million in benefit payments and lost tax revenue, but the annual economic cost from lost earnings or local economic growth of care leaver NEETs is £163m. This is a clear indicator of the unjust difference in life opportunities for looked after children – a symptom of being treated as a problem. The new report argues that attitudes at a government level must shift to provide looked after children with better life chances in every part of the country and help councils make more successful interventions – with fewer looked after children ending up as NEET, increased support and reinvested funding for local authorities.
This research is part of a new campaign, Hope instead of Handcuffs, led by Emily Aklan of Serenity Welfare – a children’s services and transport provider – which is calling on the government to ban the use of handcuffs during the transportation of looked after children in the care system.
The use of handcuffs is symbolic of the current mindsets outlined in the report, with frightened and vulnerable children simply being labelled as ‘difficult’ when being transported to new care homes, foster placements, family courts and hospitals.
Emily Aklan said: “Rather than being treated as problems, these children must be viewed as people. There needs to be a seismic shift in how we view vulnerable children, which has to start from the top with the government. Ministers need to recognise the practical steps to be taken if we’re to say that these children deserve the same chances as any other.
“What our report has shown is that there really is no excuse not to invest in these vulnerable young people. This investment is, quite simply, the right thing to do to help the children in our society who are in most need of support; but we’ve now shown that there is a cost saving to be made to the taxpayer as well.”
Steve McCabe MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, adds: “This is a shocking issue which has slipped under the radar for far too long. The use of these physical restraints on vulnerable children is as inhumane as it is unnecessary, and the campaign has my wholehearted support as we work together to ban the use of handcuffs on children during secure transportation.”
The campaign, which has already received support from MPs and Peers from all major political parties, will be pressuring the government to start taking practical measures in dismantling the old belief system by ending the use of handcuffs on children.
The Hope instead of Handcuffs campaign will be asking the government to:
- Ban the handcuffing, restraining, or caging of children except when there is a considerable risk of the child harming themselves or others;
- Mandate that all organisations involved in the transportation of children to be legally obliged to report any instances of the handcuffing of children;
- Recognise that a new approach is needed that treats vulnerable children as victims instead of criminals, providing them with timely interventions to rebuild their lives; and
- Allocate of responsibility for supporting the mentoring of vulnerable children to a government minister in the relevant department.
The full report can be accessed here.