THOUSANDS of vulnerable children are suffering in dysfunctional south Essex homes.

Figures from the Children’s Commissioner for England revealed almost 18,000 children around Southend are believed to be growing up in homes with alcohol and drug problems, mental health issues or domestic abuse.

Children in care and those who are homeless are also being moved miles away from the areas they call home or are ignored completely.

Across Essex there are an estimated 180,000 children suffering.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said: “All the vulnerabilities identified can pose a risk to children’s wellbeing and long-term life chances.

“Many of these children start school significantly below the expected level of development, and their progress tends to be lower on average, meaning that they have a higher risk of leaving school without qualifications.

Southend councillor Anne Jones, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “It is vital children grow up living in a safe, secure and loving environment.

“If they are put at risk through an adult’s use of drugs, mental health issues or domestic violence, then we have teams specifically to intervene in such situations and protect the child.

“We also work closely with the Better Start Southend programme and have a dedicated early years team to give parents early support.

“Some of our other projects include the county lines campaign, which is educating parents and the public about gangs and the transportation of drugs, and our Youth Council last year asked all local schools to sign up to the 1757 charter to support the mental health of teenagers.”

A Better Start Southend is an organisation set up to give children and families help and support during their early years.

Director Jeff Bank said: “The unfortunate reality is that if children don’t get help, problems get worse and it is for this reason that we are working to develop innovative early intervention projects, which will help ensure children in Southend get the very best start in life.”

Those taken out of the family environment in Southend due to abuse issues are also suffering.

Of the 17 children most recently placed in children’s homes, about half have been placed more than 50 miles away.

The NSPCC has warned this is isolating them from friends, family and their community, and could be placing them at risk of further abuse.

Public affairs manager Andrew Fellowes said: “The void left by their vital support network can all too easily be exploited, leaving children at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation. We also know that these children are more likely to go missing.

“There needs to be co-ordinated action from national and local governments to provide high-quality accommodation options close to where children live.”

Councillor Jones said: “The safety and wellbeing of every child is of the utmost importance and when we place a child within any home, it is with every consideration given to all aspects of their life – their health, education, safety and ongoing existing relationships.

“Removing a child from their family home is often the last resort and unfortunately due to safeguarding reasons, sometimes it is necessary to remove a child from the borough of Southend and, in extreme circumstances, the county of Essex.

“When a child is placed out of area, the situation is carefully managed with several risk assessments carried out beforehand to make sure it is the most appropriate location for that child and, once placed, there are ongoing visits and reports to make sure the child’s needs are being met and to highlight any potential risks.”

“The Ofsted report shows that children’s homes are not evenly spread throughout England and it is well documented that there are increasing demands on children’s social services. We have a duty as a local authority to take the best care of the children we look after and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

The council announced plans to build a new children’s residential care home in the borough and have set aside £700,000 for the purchase of a property that can be converted and is also recruiting foster carers.

Parents can apply at