A 16-year-old boy was raped in a park after running away from a B&B that Bristol City Council social services left him in alone, a public inquiry heard.
The teenager, who was preyed on by older men via dating apps Grindr and Tinder, was “too scared” to stay at the bed & breakfast because adults “who could pose a risk” to him were staying there, the hearing was told.
City council director of children and family services Ann James admitted the incident was “intolerable” and “indefensible”.
She said the local authority no longer placed young people or care leavers in B&B temporary accommodation.
The harrowing case was revealed on day 10 of the Independent Inquiry Into Child Abuse into institutional responses to sexual exploitation of children by organised networks.
It is examining how councils like Bristol deal with the “urgent problem of grooming and sexual abuse”, with evidence from victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation, police, local authorities, government departments and charities.
The panel was told the 16-year-old Bristol boy, referred to as “A34” as he cannot be named for legal reasons, suffered violence in the family home, mental health problems and use of drugs supplied by his parents.
He had gone missing more than a dozen times from 2016 to 2019.
The teenager became a looked-after child by Bristol City Council but continued to be at risk of exploitation throughout that time, the inquiry’s lead counsel Henrietta Hill QC said.
He left the family home after an assault by his parents and had six separate placements during a two-month period, two of which were in B&Bs.
Junior counsel Paul Livingston said: “He reported that on one occasion he was too scared to stay at the bed and breakfast and therefore spent the night in a park where he was raped.
“Children’s social care subsequently acknowledged that while the child was placed in bed and breakfast accommodation he was living with adults who could pose a risk.
“A looked-after child review recorded that A34 did not always feel safe in the accommodation that was being provided.
Asked by Ms Hill at the hearing on Wednesday (September 30) if she thought the placements properly met the boy’s needs, Ms James said: “I do not.
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“It is indefensible that we have children in care who are placed in such temporary accommodation.
“Rates of children in care nationally have grown at a swifter rate than placement provision has been able to keep pace with.
“Our increasing numbers of children in care actually are an indictment.
“We need to be focused in our communities and working with our families, and certainly for A34 you can see much work trying to prevent the need for care, with workers full in the knowledge that it will be very difficult to find suitable and safe care placements.
“I don’t dispute the situation was a particularly difficult one in terms of caring appropriately for A34.
“We monitor on a weekly basis our use of any such temporary accommodation, and we have not used bed and breakfast accommodation for any young person in our care or a care leaver since late last year.”
Asked by panel chairwoman Alexis Jay whether the teenager was left alone overnight at the B&B on both occasions, Ms James said: “Yes, he would have been. He was over 16.
“He would have been supported in the evening by our staff.
“We’re developing an out-of-hours service in Bristol because it’s intolerable that that should happen to a 16- or 17-year-old.”
Prof Jay said: “It is not that long ago. Why was a care worker not assigned to be present with him, especially when he was in that placement of such vulnerability?”
Ms James replied: “Yes, he should have been, and he should have been within supported accommodation.”
She said the council no longer had any cared-for children in unregulated placements.
“One of the other actions we’ve taken is to commission a framework of specialist providers of support and high-level bespoke supported accommodation for young people who are no longer living in a regulated setting to make sure they have the right support around them so they can be supported into their early adulthood,” she said.
Ms James said of the boy: “All the services were engaging with him and he was well engaged with those.
“He formed really strong relationships and was very much talking to people throughout about his feelings and how he was and what was happening for him and what would help him to feel safer and to be safer, and that’s been the basis upon which that work has continued.
“What being in care doesn’t do is solve in an instant the risk and abuse he was suffering.”
The 12-day virtual hearing is set to conclude tomorrow (Friday, September 2).