Posted: 08.06.21 at 21:54 by Christine Sexton - Local Democracy Reporting Service
THE problem of children supposed to be being cared for by Thurrock Council - but who have gone missing - continues to an area of concern.
In 2019 the problem made headline news but two years later councillors have again been told there are significant problems and children are still absconding from care in Thurrock – despite the council supposedly putting a wide-ranging improvement programme in place.
With the spotlight firmly on the council, Ofsted rated Thurrock Children’s Services ‘Good’ in 2019 but still raised concerns about its ability to look after children in care and recommended improvements, including closer monitoring of children at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation such as unaccompanied asylum seeking children and children who go missing from care.
A new report to the latest meeting of the authority's Corporate Parenting Committee has revealed from January to March this year there were 105 reports of missing children. These included two unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, aged 16 and 17, who are still missing after disappearing in March. Two other teens are also currently missing. The figure is an improvement on the same three months the previous year however, when there were 135 reports of children missing.
Thurrock records every episode of a child going missing from foster or residential care even if it is just a matter of hours. At the end of 2019/20, 61 children had absconded from care one or more times. That figure dropped to 52 at the end of the 2020/21 financial year.
The total number of missing episodes also dropped over the same period from 489 to 402. Improvements include identifying high risk children, better communication between teams and return home interviews with children.
Sheila Murphy, corporate director of children’s services, told the meeting: “In terms of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, it’s a national issue that some young people that come and are unaccompanied asylum seekers may already have plans about where they want to be when they come here and go missing usually very quickly.”
Sharon Smith, chairman of the Thurrock One Team Foster Care Association, said: “It’s very difficult when they’ve already got ideas. We try to take phones off them, but they are very good at hiding things. They remember addresses and phone numbers.”
Jane Pothecary, Labour councillor for Grays Riverside said: “In terms of those made ahead plans that would suggest they are incredibly vulnerable to child exploitation in terms of gangmasters and that sort of thing. It’s incredibly concerning for their welfare.”