Written evidence submitted by Mr Paul Maynard MP


I am grateful for the opportunity to present evidence on the Children’s Home sector and write as Member of Parliament for Blackpool North and Cleveleys. I am aware of significant challenges with the regulation and operation of such facilities in my own constituency and acknowledge the significant volume of correspondence the issue has raised.


I have, for some time, sought to establish a consensus view on Children’s Homes and how they are established and run in Blackpool North and Cleveleys. Speaking with residents, local authority representatives, senior police officers and those working in the industry itself I am aware of a number of challenges which have wide-ranging consequences for the communities in which homes are located.


I must stress that in all my dealings on this matter, there is broad agreement that the Children’s Home sector plays an important role.  As I always stress to constituents when they write on these matters, young people in care deserve an opportunity to live as normal a life as possible in a setting as close to that of a family home as can be provided. Many operators of Children’s Homes provide an excellent service to the young people in their care and are good neighbours, building strong relationships with the communities in which they are located. However, where problems have occurred, they have been significant enough to leave long-lasting scars in the relationship between care providers and local communities. This lack of trust is reflected in the growing opposition to Children’s Home developments where they have appeared on planning agendas.


Growth in care home sector


The availability and relative low cost of large properties in Blackpool and the surrounding boroughs makes the constituency of Blackpool North and Cleveleys an attractive prospect to care home operators. Previously, care operators have been able to establish homes without acquiring planning permission to do so, a policy Blackpool Council has now changed to reflect growing concerns over the concentration of such premises within the borough.


The majority of premises identified by Blackpool Council as offering children’s social care placement do not serve local need.  Rather they are used to provide remote placements to young people from outside the local authority area. Information provided to me by Blackpool Council shows of 71 available beds only 18 are occupied by young people placed by Blackpool Council or neighbouring authorities. Young people are placed in Blackpool by local authorities in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Merseyside and Southampton. The local authority advises me that without these remote placements provision would be sufficient to meet local need without having to send Blackpool children to more expensive out-of-area placements.


Blackpool contains eight of the most deprived geographical locations in England and Wales. The town faces significant socio-economic challenges. Educational attainment is significantly below national average levels, skilled employment opportunities are limited and the town has the among highest level of drug and alcohol related deaths in the United Kingdom. I would therefore question whether Blackpool is a suitable location for remote placement of vulnerable young people.


The focus of the care sector in my constituency on serving profitable remote placement has resulted in a shortfall of available places for young people from Blackpool and the surrounding boroughs. It is therefore the case that despite adequate beds being nominally available local provision must be increased. Blackpool Council, quite correctly, has a policy of not permitting further children’s social care premises in the town’s urban core, where the challenges of deprivation are most keenly felt. As a result we have seen a growing number of homes proposed within residential neighbourhoods where relations between home operators, young people and communities can quickly turn sour.


On one occasion, within hours of such a home opening within my own constituency, a significant anti-social behaviour incident took place, resulting in police attendance. As a result any trust between the home operator and the local community has been eroded to a point where the damage is irreversible. On another occasion, children in a home have been engaged in high profile anti-social behaviour resulting in damage to public funded artwork. Now I find any anti-social behaviour in that particular community is linked to the presence of the home, regardless of any evidence or involvement of residents.


I fear such developments not only serve to damage trust with local communities but to unfairly stigmatise young people in care. The concentration of provision in areas such as Blackpool, only serves to increase the possibility of such tensions. Where I have had cause to involve the regulator, I am not convinced the response has been sufficient to allay public concerns or to support young people and care providers.


Challenges of remote placement


I have already alluded to the significant number of young people placed in care in Blackpool North and Cleveleys by external local authorities. These council are often-based several hundreds of miles from the homes contracted to provide care for the young people they are supporting. While I recognise there are circumstances where remote placement is necessary, where a young person’s circumstances require them to relocate away from their own community. Remote placement should not, however, be the default of any authority. It is certainly not acceptable to place young people remotely on cost grounds or to prevent difficult or challenging planning choices.


I have discussed remote placement at great length with both local authority representatives and senior police officers. The opinion I have received from both is that Blackpool is not a suitable location for such remote placements. The practice places significant additional pressures on local authorities and policing resources, particularly where best practice is not followed.


I have been informed that external authorities do not routinely advise either Blackpool Council or Lancashire Constabulary when remote placements are made. Indeed, detectives have advised me the first they often hear about such placements is when a child goes missing. There has even been one example of a young person violently threatened by gangs being placed in Blackpool without police being made aware. I recognise the significant resources required in response to young people missing from care and note with concern the frequency of such call outs locally. Having participated myself in the Police Parliamentary Scheme I have participated in local search operations and seen first-hand the number of officers required. It is vital, therefore, that authorities placing young people remotely stand by their obligations to inform all relevant local bodies of a young person’s presence in the community.


As I have already alluded, the high prevalence of remotely placed young people in Blackpool places unwelcome pressure on available beds. Blackpool Council is, essentially, forced into remotely placing its own young people not through desire but due to a lack of availability locally. This situation benefits neither those placed remotely by other authorities or local children who cannot be found a bed close to home.


Placement related risk


Blackpool’s proximity to major conurbations of Liverpool and Manchester, with easy transport links between, makes the town a prime target for County Lines gangs, trafficking drugs into local communities. Detectives leading the fight against County Lines operations in Blackpool have made clear to me the risks to remotely-placed young people, with police making clear vulnerable children in care have already been recruited into such operations.


County Lines operations in and around Blackpool are somewhat unique, with young people able to travel to and from Manchester and Liverpool in a day. Opportunities for the exploitation of young people are, I’m advised by police, higher than in other areas of the United Kingdom. The risk to young people placed in care in Blackpool and to the broader community is a factor I worry greatly is not considered when authorities determine remote placements.


Step down care


Currently Children’s Care, to the age of 16, is regulated by Ofsted. This allows authorities like Blackpool to determine where such care is being delivered and to ensure adequate oversight locally. The authority has adopted a rule that no new homes providing regulated care can open within 400m of each other. This is designed to prevent premises from becoming concentrated in specific communities.


I am, however, aware that provision for those leaving care after the age of 16 is not currently regulated in the same manner. There is no specific record of homes providing such services, despite their purpose being broadly similar to those which are regulated. As such it is difficult for the local authority to track where such homes are currently operating or where providers intends to set up shop in the future. I believe there is a strong case for regulation in the 16-18 sector, not least to ensure the quality of care meets basic standards. It also allows local authorities like Blackpool to tackle specific local issues, such as proliferation. Currently it is difficult to ascertain how many young people are living in ‘step down’ care in Blackpool North and Cleveleys or to prevent operators from opening further premises should they choose.


I welcome the efforts being made by Blackpool Council in addressing these challenges, alongside the authority’s excellent work to promote fostering as a care alternative. It has, however, been made clear to me by those responsible that there is a need nationally to address the challenges young people and the teams charged with their care, to ensure placements are appropriate and safe, something I worry is not being achieved within the current framework.