Spaces for vulnerable children were slashed at Peterborough’s children’s homes last year, figures show – one of the biggest cuts in England.
Children’s homes look after people aged under 18 to prepare them for independent living. This includes children in the care of a local authority, as well as those with disabilities, learning difficulties or mental health issues.
Ofsted’s latest data showed there were five such sites in Peterborough on March 31.
They had room for 29 young people, down from 39 a year earlier.
Across England, Ofsted recorded 2,304 children’s homes active in March, with 12,035 places.
Nearly a quarter of these homes were in the North West, where children have to travel 21 miles on average to reach them.
London, by comparison, contains only five per cent of the country’s children’s homes. Youngsters in the capital face the longest journeys of any region in England, an average of 60 miles from their front door.
A Peterborough City Council spokesman said: “The figures detailing the number of children’s homes in Peterborough relate to the number of independent sector children’s homes operating in the city. The number of homes that decide to open or close in the city is not within the control of the council as they operate independently from us.
“Like most councils, our aim is to ensure that as many children as possible who are in care live with foster families, and our use of children’s homes is relatively low.
“These independent children’s homes offer placements to authorities across the UK and not only to Peterborough children and young people.
“The reduction in the number of beds in Peterborough is not therefore something that has a significant impact on children and young people in care to Peterborough.”
David Derbyshire, director of safeguarding at the charity Action for Children, said: “We know from our frontline services that for children in care, moving home is not just about leaving a house – it means the emotional turmoil of leaving a family, friends, school and everything that’s familiar to start all over again.
“Although sometimes children may need to move away from foster homes when relationships between a carer and child break down, we’re faced with a chronic shortage of foster carers in the country which is causing untold harm to this vulnerable group of children.”
Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for children’s social care, said the statistics “only tell part of the story”.
She added: “There is simply not enough specialist support in the right places to meet demand.
“Vulnerable children should live closer to their family and friends, where it is safe for them to do so.”
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “It’s encouraging to see progress being made, with more councils judged good or outstanding, meaning more children are being kept safe from harm.
“The vast majority of children’s homes – which play a vital role in caring for some of the most vulnerable children in the country – are also getting these top ratings.
“I want to keep this progress going, which is why we have given local authorities an extra £410 million for adult and children’s social care and are investing in a £200 million innovation programme, which is backing the sector to put new and even more effective measures in place to help vulnerable families.”