THE 'fundamental human rights' of children in care in Oxfordshire are increasingly being breached as more and more of them are sent to live outside of the county, an MP has warned.

Latest figures from the Department for Education reveal the number of Oxfordshire children being put in care placements in other counties soared 125 per cent rise in just six years, from 131 in 2014 to 295 last year.

The average rise across England for children being placed with foster parents or in children's homes outside their home county was 23 per cent.

A report from the Children’s Commissioner for England released last month found children placed outside their home county were more likely to go missing or be exploited by 'county lines' drug gangs.

Read also: Abingdon woman fighting cannabis court battle says 'I am way ahead of my time'

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran said children's 'fundamental human rights were being breached'.

The Lib Dem member went on: "These are our most vulnerable children, who need to be kept close to home and as close to their networks as they possibly can."

Witney Gazette:

Ms Moran said that part of the reason demand was rising was because the 'preventive youth services' designed to help children had been 'massively' cut back in recent years.

She said: “We need a fundamental review of the entire system. It is a broken system which needs repairing.

“If we do not do this as a matter of urgency, then all we are going to do is store up problems for the future.

Read also: 'Rather Sad' - Oxford's big plans for Brexit Day on Friday

“Social workers that I speak to say that they are under enormous pressure. They have massive case loads which are getting bigger and more complex.”

Ms Moran said she would be putting forward a motion at the Liberal Democrats’ next conference to put children’s social care ‘on a sustainable financial footing.’

Oxford East Labour MP Anneliese Dodds said the problem was that 'resources had not kept up with demand for services'.

She said: “It is very important to develop local capacity because we know the evidence shows it is much better for children and young people in the care system to be placed close to their family homes.

Witney Gazette:

“As part of my work with the opposition Treasury team we found that if the previous government had not cut taxes on banks, we would have had sufficient funding to provide for children’s services.

“The announcement by national government of an increase in local authority funding is welcome, but it is not going to be sufficient to make up for previous cuts.’’

More than 500 cases of children going missing from care were recorded in Oxfordshire in the past five years, the figures show.

There were 89 so-called ‘missing incidents’ in 2019, a slight fall compared with previous years.

Read also: Latest hygiene results for Oxfordshire

Until then, the number of missing incidents rose every year for which figures are available, with 117 recorded incidents in 2018 compared with 95 in 2015.

The Children Act 1989 places a statutory duty on councils to allow children in care to live near home if possible.

Guidance makes allowances for circumstances where it may not be possible to place a child near home due to safeguarding concerns.

However, the Children's Commissioner's report said funding cuts had made local placements rarer in recent years.

Witney Gazette:

More than half of children living outside their home local area (52 per cent) have special educational needs and just under a quarter (24 per cent) have mental, emotional and social health cited as their main reason for living in care.

Children in out-of-area placements are more likely to be older and to have experienced multiple moves while in care.

More unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are in out of area placements than their peers.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said: “Many children in care are living miles away from the place they call home because councils have nowhere suitable for them to live.

“Some children in care have told me they feel like parcels – passed from pillar to post, unsure where they even are on a map. We wouldn’t want this for our own children, and we shouldn’t accept it either for those children who rely on the state to look after them.

Read again: Ex-Oxford hospitals director sentenced for lying about his degree to get £130k job

“The Government has a manifesto commitment to review the children’s care system. They need to launch it in the new year and it must be independent, wide-ranging and lead to concerted action and improvement.’’

The Department of Education data analysed by the Oxford Mail records the number of children in out-of-area placements at a fixed point in time – in this case March 31, 2019.

Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for children and family services Steve Harrod said he was optimistic that after a period of government austerity, the council would soon be able to improve the situation.

He said: “We desperately want to place more of our children with local families, but sometimes there is a lack of adequate provision in the county.

“We keep a very close watch on out of county placements and are investing £1m in local foster carers.

“Cuts to the children’s services sector in the past ten years have probably gone too far, but the austerity programme has now come to an end.”