New figures show that a record number of children were in care in Oxfordshire last year.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s called on the Government to invest in a national campaign to recruit more foster carers and provide sufficient funding to ensure there are residential care places available for children who need them.

Department for Education figures show there were 881 looked after children – those placed under the care of the council – in Oxfordshire as of March 2023.

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This was the highest figure since comparable records began in 2009 and 2010, and a rise from the previous high of 855 in 2022.

Across England there were 83,840 children in care, up 2 per cent from 2022 and a record high number. Of these, 17,630 were placed more than 20 miles from their home, including 360 children from Oxfordshire.

Paul Carberry, chief executive at Action for Children, said: “So many children being sent far away from home is one symptom of a broken children’s social care system.

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“Much more needs to be done to increase capacity in the provision of safe and stable homes for looked after children.

“The provision of care must be rebalanced towards the public and voluntary sector. This will help ensure that the needs of children are better met, including their need to be in their home community close to family, friends, school and services.”

The figures also show school stability for children looked after in the country hasn’t improved, with 11 per cent of 52,970 children in care still in school having to move school at least once during the year – in line with 2022.

In Oxfordshire, 83 children had to change school at least once.

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Lynn Perry MBE, Barnardo’s chief executive, said “The number of children in the care system continues to rise, and whilst most are living with foster families, many local authorities are struggling to find specialist residential places.”

She added the moves mean cutting children off from friends and family and result in them feeling lonely and isolated.

“The number one priority must be finding the right place for children to live where their needs are met, they get crucial love and support, they are kept safe, and they have the right help to recover from their past experiences,” she said.

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“The Government must do more to support children and families in line with the recommendations of the Independent Review of Social Care.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want all children to have the chance to reach their potential and grow up in a safe and stable home.

“Our ambitious children’s social care reforms should reduce the need for young people to be moved out of area, unless this is the right decision to protect them from risks such as violence or exploitation.

“We are investing £400 million to support local areas develop children’s homes so individuals can be placed closer to home and reduce local government reliance on costly emergency places for children.”