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Exploitation of Missing Looked-after Children — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 3:27 pm, 23rd October 2019

The approach we have taken is to target money at those areas that need it most, ones which have not been performing well, so that we can be specific with that Strengthening Families money of £84 million. We have invested in the workforce as well— £200 million—and our strategy is to put children first. We are doing things in a co-ordinated way.

The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East made reference to care leavers, a subject that the Secretary of State is passionate about and—I share his passion. This week, we announced a £19 million package of things to assist them and to give them the choices and chances that they deserve in life.

Fundamentally, I believe that young people can only ever be safe when they are cared for by local children’s services that have their best interests at heart—something that the hon. Member for Croydon North stressed. Funding is of course important, as he also stressed, and that is why the 2015 spending review gave local authorities access to more than £200 billion up to 2019-20 for services, including children’s social services. In addition, last month we announced another £1 billion for social care in 2020-21, so the issue is a focus of this Government and to say it is not would be unfair.

As I am sure hon. Members agree, however, that is only part of the solution. We are delivering an extensive programme of reform that has a strong focus on prevention, intervening early to provide families with the support that they need. The programme also works to ensure that, where children cannot stay with their family, there are enough places—a point laboured throughout the debate. We are also reforming social work and children’s social care so that we recruit and retain some of the most highly professional individuals. Providing the best possible support for local young people leaving the care system is also paramount.

Let me reassure hon. Members that my Department and I are committed to ensuring that children who go missing can be brought back safely, and that the service they receive in the care of the local authority means that they are in a home that is safe, secure and meets their needs. I commit to work relentlessly on the issue, and I invite any Member to follow up with and meet me after the debate. This is something that should be done and tackled not only across Government but across party. The issue is non-political and, at its heart, should always be about children—their safety, security and futures.