Local authority and children’s services leaders have called for greater scrutiny of private sector children’s social care providers in a bid to minimise the risks posed by a large operator collapsing.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said it would like to see the creation of a role to monitor the financial health of large children’s social care placement providers, while the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) wants to see changes to the regulatory system to require providers to be registered instead of settings.
The concerns were raised in responses to the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) call for evidence on the children’s social care market study. Launched in March on the request of Care Review chair Josh MacAlister, the CMA market study – responses to which have just been published - could lead to a full investigation later this year.
In their submissions, both organisations said they were concerned about the growing influence of private equity (PE) investors in the children’s social care sector.
The LGA cites research that shows private equity-owned provision “carries a higher financial risk profile than other types of providers”.
It states: “Four of the seven largest groups of independent providers carry more debts and liabilities than tangible assets, with all of these being PE-owned. In total, six of the 20 groups of providers (the largest in the market) in the study reported negative net assets, with all but one of these having PE ownership.”
The LGA highlights that the collapse of adult care home provider Southern Cross in 2011 led to a legal duty for the Care Quality Commission to monitor the financial health of the “most difficult to replace” adult social care service providers – but that no such duty exists for the children’s sector.
“We would like to see a role introduced to oversee the financial health of large children’s social care placement providers to prevent a ‘Southern Cross situation’ in children’s social care, and also incorporate consideration of how mergers and acquisitions impact on quality of care and the experiences and outcomes of children,” it states.
In its submission, the ADCS echoes growing concerns about the role of private equity in the residential care sector and its impact on the stability of providers.
It states: “For some time, ADCS members have been concerned about how private equity is driving rapid changes in the ownership, financial models and service delivery in residential services for vulnerable children.
“The proportion of the market controlled by just a small number of providers, along with multi-million-pound mergers between providers who are diversifying across the sector and buying up smaller firms, increases the risk within the system. The risks associated with the impact of provider failure are significant and only increase as ownership continues to contract.”
The ADCS highlights that the current regulatory framework is nearly 20 years old and focused on the performance of individual homes rather than “the efficacy of the increasingly common large provider chains/organisations or the contribution they make to children’s outcomes”.
There is little focus on – or scrutiny of – the financial stability of parent companies, no single record of who owns the services that deliver care for children available for authorities to refer to as corporate parents, nor a mechanism for recording or managing the risk of provider failure, it adds.
Moving to a system that registered providers instead of settings “would allow the flexibility needed to make emergency/crisis placements while also allowing authorities to tailor the care and support around the individual needs of children and young people”, it added.
The CMA received submissions from 35 organisations to its study. A decision on whether to hold an investigation will be made by September.
The government has announced an additional £51m to support care leavers and young people transitioning to independence.
The funding will extend existing Department for Education flagship schemes Staying Put and Staying Close for an additional year.
The package includes:
The DfE is also set to provide more than 5,000 more laptops for care leavers through the Get Help with Technology scheme, which will help to prevent loneliness and isolation among this group of young people. The laptops and routers will mean they can more easily keep in touch with their personal advisers and wider support networks, as well as helping them access support services such as for education, mental health support and searching for employment opportunities online.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Every young person in care deserves to live in accommodation that meets their needs and keeps them safe – anything less is unacceptable, and so continuing to prioritise children in care or leaving care is absolutely vital.
“The measures build on our shared ambition across government to level up outcomes and opportunities for everyone, but especially the most vulnerable – by providing safer homes, reducing isolation among young people leaving care, and by making sure they have a strong support network to rely on as they take steps into adult life.”
"This new funding will help care leavers as they navigate the sometimes perilous transition into living independently, whether that's through advice from a personal adviser or rapid support if they find themselves with no roof over their head,” he said.
"Taken together with the recent exemption from the shared accommodation rate, this is a real step forward for care leavers."
Meanwhile, a report by charity Barnardo’s reveals the extent of unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation offered to vulnerable young people when they leave care and how this differs from that offered to children.
Its survey of 2,000 adults found that only one in five received no support from parents when they first moved out of the family home to live independently. Interviews the charity did with 23 care leavers about their experiences found an overwhelming proportion reported having little or no choice about where they moved after leaving care, many found the whole process of finding somewhere to live and moving in to be "scary" and did not feel ready to live independently.
Its No Place Like Home report calls on the government to provide more support for the Staying Close scheme, double to £4,000 the ‘setting up home’ grant, and develop robust standards for semi-independent accommodation.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Many young people leaving the care system enter adulthood without a strong support network, leaving them particularly vulnerable.
“Having a safe and stable home is one of the most important factors in helping care leavers to recover from past trauma, gain qualifications and secure stable employment. Yet our research has demonstrated that care leavers are too often expected to live in conditions that are unsuitable and at worst unsafe.
“The government has a unique opportunity to improve the system for care leavers, through the Independent Review of Children's Social Care. We must also make it easier for young people to stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21; and when they do live independently, accommodation must be safe and appropriate to meet their needs.”
Children’s charities have stepped up their campaign to call for an end to private care companies profiteering from fostering.
The campaign group Fairer Fostering Partnership (FFP) has launched a social media push using the hashtag #forchildrennotprofit, to promote commissioning care placements using not-for-profit and charitable fostering agencies, rather than commercial fostering firms.
The group is concerned that commercial fostering organisations are owned by private and venture capital companies that make “significant profits for shareholders”.
Instead, the FFP believes that any profit from foster care should be re-invested into children’s services.
“Excessive profit has no place in the care of vulnerable children,” says the group.
It adds: “FFP members work purely for children, not for profit, and in a financially strapped sector funded by taxpayers helping thousands of vulnerable children in care, it is important that local authorities and foster carers are able to make an informed choice as to which fostering providers they work with."
FFP members include Action for Children, Barnardo’s and The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT).
TACT chief executive and FFP chair Andy Elvin said: “All our members’ resources are invested in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and young people, and not in making a profit from them.
“This transparency and accountability is welcomed by local authorities and foster carers alike, but we need to continue promoting the message that excessive profits are being made by some agencies at a time when there is less money in the system. That clearly can’t be a good thing for children in care.”
This week the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) also raised concerns about the use of profit-making companies to provide children’s care.
Its 2021 position paper says there is a “worrying increase in the number of large organisations, backed by private equity investors, entering into children’s residential and fostering services”.
It adds “the ability of private equity companies to extract huge profit from the care of children is concerning, as is the level of debt and the implications that financial failure would mean for children and young people”.
In 2012 and 2013, ADCS published position statements articulating members’ collective aspirations for the care system with a particular focus on how we support adolescents, taking into account the balance of parenting responsibility between the state and a young person’s family.
Much has changed in the intervening period and this updated position statement considers the purposes of care in light of the challenges facing children, young people and families in 2021 and the context in which local authorities currently operate. This paper maintains the focus on adolescents as their needs continue to be less well met by our current very binary construct of care.
View Position Statement
It is a huge privilege to lead this review, which is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the children’s social care system and improve the lives of children and their families.
This review is a chance to look afresh at children’s social care. It will look at issues through the perspective of children and families throughout their interactions with children’s social care, from having a social worker knock on the door, through to children being in care and then leaving care.
Over the coming months as our work gets underway, me and my team will be seeking out a wide range of views to feed into the review’s work. By listening to and engaging with a wide range of voices we will be able to build the best possible recommendations about how to achieve real change.
The stakes are high and if we get this review right, we will be able to set out a plan for a future system that can better guarantee love, safety and stability for children growing up in England.
Experts highlight the review of residential care, social work practice ‘blueprint’ and investigation into children’s care market as key pieces of work that could influence what issues the review of children’s social care covers.
The work of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England has ramped up after it officially launched on 1 March, raising questions over the main influences on its scope and direction.
The appointment of civil servant Shazia Hussain, who previously worked on Sir Martin Narey’s 2016 Independent Review of Children’s Residential Care and A Blueprint for Social Care, co-authored by review chair Josh MacAlister in 2019, has been seen by some in the sector as offering clues to which direction the review will head in. Here, experts point towards key existing reports and ongoing investigations they feel may influence the review.
A Blueprint for Children’s Social Care
Frontline and the Centre for Public Impact’s blueprint is loosely based on the Buurtzorg model which was developed by nurses in Denmark in 2007 in response to “public service reforms” aimed at meeting targets and cutting costs.
The document co-authored by MacAlister lays out a similar structure for local authority children’s social care departments based around a self-managing, family-facing team working with families and children with the aim of reducing social worker caseloads and time spent carrying out paperwork and “box-ticking exercises” in favour of more time spent with families.
A family-facing team would be supported by other teams including a referral team, strategy team and insight and enable teams to increase face-to-face time with families by 40 per cent.
Sector leaders have questioned whether MacAlister’s ties to the blueprint suggest it may influence the direction of the review.
Robin Sen, lecturer in social work at the University of Dundee and an honorary research fellow at the University of Sheffield, says it may be difficult for MacAlister to step away from his “intellectual entanglement” with the blueprint.
“To author it must mean he has some belief in it,” says Sen, raising questions over high-profile government figures throwing their weight behind the blueprint.
“Another question is whether or not Josh is able to move away from key players like children’s minister Vicky Ford and chief social worker Isabelle Trowler, both of whom backed the blueprint,” he says.
“The key players obviously have their own agendas and what they would like to see pushed through and that influence is a worry.”
He also raises concerns over the use of the model in the blueprint which aims to slash paperwork for social workers, warning that “anti-bureaucracy has transpired in the past as a code word for cuts to regulations”.
“What we risk here is losing regulations and safeguarding practices similar to the statutory instrument 445 exemptions put in place to reduce the responsibility of local authorities during the pandemic,” says Sen.
The sector has also drawn parallels between the contract for running the Care Review and wording in the blueprint which states that “no extra funding is needed to bring about the transformation proposed in this document”.
The contract states the “DfE cannot assume any additional funding from the Exchequer to meet the recommendations”.
Any requests for new funding should “be offset by savings across national and/or local public services (including local government children’s social care)”, it adds.
Director of children’s rights charity Article 39, Carolyne Willow, says: “The review’s current terms of reference make no suggestion of additional funding for services to children and families and refer only to the effective use of resources and value for money – both of which are essential but only when sufficient funding has been provided in the first place.”
However, Gavin Moorghen, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England, says the blueprint only covers “such a small part of what the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care is expected to look at” with the terms of reference promising a “bold wide-ranging review”.
Moorghen notes that children’s social care could benefit from “relationships-based” practice championed in the blueprint which was backed by BASW prior to its publication.
“The blueprint seems like too narrow an avenue to become the main focus of the Care Review but elements like increasing time with families, especially in a post-Covid world, is something that could be developed within the system,” he says.
MacAlister echoes this point in a tweet which reads: “The blueprint was a project shaped by social workers to apply one approach into the existing structures of children’s services. The review is much bigger than this.”
However, he adds: “I’m very open to the review making different recommendations.”
Narey Review of Children’s Residential Care
Questions have also been raised over the influence that Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s homes could have on the Care Review following the appointment of civil servant Shazia Hussain as head of the review panel.
Ray Jones, social worker and emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University, points out that in his report on residential care Narey concludes “Shazia Hussain led the DfE team brilliantly. I hope very much indeed that if Ministers accept these recommendations that she might lead their implementation”.
“This opportunity is now arising,” Jones says, adding that this could lead to “the government’s ideological commitment to further move children’s social care into a privatised marketplace and away from publicly accountable and locally based councils.”
He adds: “Sir Martin has been a champion for the involvement of private companies in children’s social services and child protection.
“His review of residential care, like his review of foster care [published in 2018], did not recommend that local authorities ought to regain the ground they have lost by no longer providing services themselves. Instead, it recommended that local authorities should be better commissioners and purchasers in an expanded marketplace.”
Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) examination of children’s social care
Jones also warns that the CMA investigation of children’s social care provision could shape “the likely direction of travel” for the Care Review.
“The CMA has the brief of promoting competition – it is hardly likely to conclude that care for children should be a public service rather than a commercial profit-generating business,” he says.
The CMA launched the examination in March to investigate “the lack of availability and increasing costs in children’s social care provision, including children’s homes and fostering” following a request from MacAlister.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of charity TACT foster care and adoption, has mixed feelings on the probe and its influence on the Care Review.
Elvin explains that currently “fostering, 16+ provision and children’s homes are, outside the statutory sector, dominated by private for-profit providers”.
“On one hand it is deeply depressing that the CMA is central to a review of the children’s social care system,” he adds, “however on the other hand, I am delighted”.
He adds: “Asking them demonstrates a keenness of thought and a willingness to use all means available to fight for a children’s social care system that has children and their families and care-experienced adults at its heart.”
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Foster Care Providers, echoes Elvin’s optimism around the inclusion of the CMA’s findings in the Care Review.
He says: “Where a child in care lives, is still too much of a lottery characterised by bureaucracy, lack of choice and fragmentation between organisations. From the perspective of independent fostering agencies (IFAs), one change that could make a huge difference would be to see local authorities and IFAs truly working in partnership with each other. This is where the CMA study could shine a light on historical and baseless divisions.”
However, Jonathan Stanley, manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, says that, like the Blueprint for Children’s Social Care, the CMA’s findings may “not take a wide enough view”.
He cites the Local Government Association’s Barriers and Facilitators to Local Authorities and Small Providers Establishing Children’s Homes report, published by Newgate Research, as “an example of the approach that will be helpful”.
“This looked at the actions of providers and local authorities, separately and as they interact,” he says, adding that “to enable understanding and planning for the Care Review the CMA must bring into focus all parties” including local authorities, the government and Ofsted.
Such agencies are “active” in creating a competitive market for children’s residential care and could play a part in “resolving it”, Stanley adds.
“It could be that authorities open homes to fill that gap for high-level needs using local partnerships with health and education. The CMA can assist by being creative and solution focused,” he says.
Questions of independence
As further details of the Care Review and its scope emerge week-by-week, questions around its independence and the 12- to 15-month timescale continue to raise concerns across the sector.
What experts agree on is that the review must be influenced, not by previous attempts to reform the sector or by a raft of recently announced investigations (see box), but by how best to meet the needs of England’s most vulnerable children.
The key question, many say, is whether MacAlister and his team can break the ties with previous projects to deliver the “bold, broad” review the sector was promised by ministers.
ONGOING REVIEWS AND TIMESCALES
Industry News: New Coram survey on public attitudes to children in care and care leavers finds sympathy but also negative judgements
A new Coram survey on public attitudes to children in care and care leavers is published today to mark the first Care Experienced History Month UK
The findings show that while most people are sympathetic to the challenges faced by children in care, some continue to hold negative judgements that potentially stigmatise care-experienced young people. The survey of over 2,000 UK adults finds that while 81% of those asked thought that children in care are neither a good nor bad influence on other children, around one in eight (12%) believe they are a bad influence.
The survey, undertaken for Coram by YouGov, also suggests evidence of some negative and stigmatising associations which risk reinforcing fixed stereotypes of care-experienced young people. When asked for the first three words that came to mind when thinking about ‘children in care’, most respondents reported negative terms. The most popular responses included the words “sad”, “poor”, “abused”, “vulnerable” and “orphan”, with other commonly reported terms including “unloved”, “trauma” and “troubled”.
The findings show that public attitudes are little changed on previous research carried out for Coram by YouGov in 2017, which found “lonely/loneliness”, “sad” and “troubled” to be among the most commonly reported terms to describe children in care.
Today’s survey, part-funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, also reveals that the majority of respondents had some awareness of the unique challenges that care leavers face, highlighting inadequate support into adulthood and difficulty accessing education and jobs. A majority of people (62% to 76%) also favoured a range of support measures for care-experienced young people including education, housing, financial, apprenticeships and mental health support.
The findings are published following the recent launch of Coram’s #RealStoriesOfCare campaign which showcases the personal stories of care-experienced young people today and through history. The campaign has been co-produced with care-experienced children and young people who identified that it would make a huge difference if the diverse experiences of care were more widely understood, with a balance of positive and negative aspects of care, instead of inaccurate or stigmatised perspectives which so often affect them.
Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “Whilst it is encouraging to see that a majority of people recognise the importance of specialist support for young care leavers, the findings also suggest a failure to see children in care and care leavers as individuals who are more than their label of being care experienced.
“Care-experienced children and young people have told us that negative associations can ‘follow them around’, undermining their efforts and limiting their potential. The government’s independent review of children’s social care is a timely opportunity for us all to hear young people’s voices, to ensure we portray their experiences in a more balanced light, and to celebrate their aspirations and achievements. The care-experienced young people working on Coram’s #RealStoriesOfCare campaign are sharing their own inspiring stories and working hard to challenge these limiting and stigmatising attitudes.”
Julian Brown, a care-experienced Ambassador for Coram’s Voices Through Time programme and the creator of the Foundling: Found podcast series, said: “We need to change the notion that those in care are always journeying through life being ‘scared’, ‘lonely’, ‘troubled’, ‘unloved’ and ‘unfortunate’. Just reading these words is degrading in itself. People assume that that is all we may feel or think and that a care-experienced young person’s life cannot improve - if we can change this message, then I believe we can change the public perception around those in care. I know from care-experienced people that I have spoken to that being care has been ‘life-saving’, ‘freedom’, a ‘second chance’ and a ‘life they never knew existed.”
Read the full report
The CMA has today launched a study of children’s social care provision to establish why a lack of availability and increasing costs could be leading to the needs of children in care not being met.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will examine concerns around high prices paid by local authorities and inadequate supply of appropriate placements for children in their care. This could be putting pressure on the ability of local authorities to provide the appropriate accommodation and care which children need.
Using its statutory market study powers, the CMA aims to obtain information to help build a better understanding of the children’s social care sector. Depending on what it finds, it can issue guidance to businesses and the public, make recommendations to the industry or to government or, if appropriate, launch a full investigation into the market.
Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:
"Children in care are among the most vulnerable in our society and they need a system that does not let them down."
"We are concerned that some children are not getting access to the right placements due to a lack of availability in the system, and that rising prices are putting further pressure on stretched local authority budgets."
"The CMA is in a unique position to use its powers to look into this. But children’s care is not a market like any other - our clear and overriding priority will be about identifying ways children can get better care. This will include examining the concerns raised about the role of private sector providers, which has grown in the last few years, as well as the role of public and third sector providers."
In England, Scotland and Wales, around 99,000 children live under the care of their local authority. The majority of children in care, approximately 65,000, live in foster care. Around 16,000 children live in residential care, including children’s homes and independent or semi-independent living accommodation, with the remaining 18,000 in a range of other types of placement, including with their parents or placed for adoption.
Each local authority is responsible for contracting foster care and purchasing the required children’s homes places. Children are placed with foster carers, either directly by the local authority or by independent fostering agencies, which can be run for-profit in England and Wales but not in Scotland. Children’s homes are provided either directly by local authorities, by the private sector or by charities, with 70% of children in England and 78% of children in Wales placed in private sector homes.
The launch of the study comes after concerns have been raised by other organisations about private sector provision of children’s social care making high profit margins. A recent Local Government Association report found that some independent providers of children’s residential and fostering placements are achieving profits of more than 20% on their income. The study will examine whether high levels of profit have been made at the expense of investment in recruiting and retaining staff, and providing quality services.
The CMA will look at how well the current system of provision is working across England, Scotland and Wales and explore how it could be made to work better. In particular, it will look into:
the supply of placements, including whether the current balance of local authority, private sector and third sector provision is working well for children and local authorities
prices charged by providers and variation between prices paid for similar types of placement, with increasing prices potentially putting pressure on local authority budgets
the way commissioning of places is carried out, and whether local authorities could be more effective in securing appropriate placements for children
the environment for investing in the system to ensure sufficient appropriate places are available for all children who need them in the future, and whether any measures should be taken to improve this
In recent years, the CMA has carried out similar studies into funerals and care homes for older people, among others.
Comments on the issues raised can be submitted in the Invitation to Comment by 14 April 2021. All updates on the CMA’s work in this area can be found on the Children’s social care study page.
A couple of weeks ago I set out the overarching question that the independent review of children’s social care will focus on – how we can ensure that children grow up in loving, safe and stable families, and where that is not possible that care provides those same foundations.
For those children who need to enter care, making sure they have somewhere to live that meets their needs is crucial. This is the place a child will spend most of their time and can provide the stability that enables them to forge lifelong relationships.
Yet, since my appointment as chair of the independent review of children’s social care, I’ve been inundated with calls from care-experienced children and young people, Directors of Children’s Services, providers and others telling me that currently the ‘placements market’ (an unfortunate term in itself) just isn’t working and that a lack of suitable homes for children is leading to unnecessary out of area placements, placement breakdown and inappropriate use of unregulated provision.
This is why one of my first actions as chair of the review, was to write to the Competition and Markets Authority to ask that they open a study into the children’s social care ‘market’. I am in good company in this regard, with the former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee also suggesting the CMA should look into this issue.
It is therefore extremely welcome that the CMA have today launched a market study looking at the provision of accommodation and associated care and support for children in care in England, Scotland and Wales. The timing of this work provides an opportunity for our two reviews to work together to achieve better informed recommendations, to improve the quality of homes children can live in.
The CMA have a unique remit and skill set to look into this issue and their work will explore specific concerns in relation to children’s homes, unregulated accommodation and fostering provision. The independent review of children’s social care will, by contrast, take a broader look across children’s social care, using the evidence gathered by the CMA and others to make recommendations that span the whole system.
There will be some areas where our areas of focus overlap and so I have agreed with the CMA that their study and our review will work closely together, within the bounds of the CMA’s legal powers and obligations and respecting the independence of both pieces of work. In practice this will mean sharing findings so that we benefit from the same evidence, but also more practically ensuring that requests for information are not duplicated unnecessarily.
I am looking forward to working with the CMA to strengthen the review’s evidence and make the most of the opportunity we have to solve one of the most persistent barriers to making sure care provides children with loving, stable and safe foundations.
Industry News: Thousands of children in care being ‘failed by the state’ because of a broken residential care home market
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has published a set of reports showing how the children’s residential social care system is broken and is failing many of the most vulnerable children, in particular those who are most at risk of falling through gaps in the system and becoming victims of criminal or sexual exploitation. Today’s reports are the start of a series of interventions by the Children’s Commissioner this month on the issue of children’s social care.
The first report, ‘The children who no-one knows what to do with’, is the culmination of three years of wide-ranging research into children’s homes. It highlights the issues faced by certain groups of children in care for whom the system is not working, including:
The paper details the experiences of these children, including constant moves. One teenager talked of being placed 8 hours from her hometown and not seeing her Mum for months. Other children say they felt “dumped” in areas they had never heard of and could not identify on a map, only to then be isolated at home for months waiting for a school place.
The second report published today, ‘Private provision in children’s social care’, explores the growth of private companies providing foster placements and children’s homes. It warns there is a clear lack of planning and oversight for the market, leading to an increasingly fragmented, uncoordinated and irrational market. Private provision accounts for 73% of the growth in the number of children in care between 2011 and 2019. The number of children in in homes provided by the private sector has grown by 42% over this period whereas local authority provision has not kept pace and has actually shrunk in some areas. The Children’s Commissioner argues that the responsibility for making the system work has fallen through the cracks: the growth in private provision may not have been a deliberate policy choice but it is a consequence of government inaction along with the options and funding available to local authorities.
The report finds that certain large providers are seeing a profit margin of around 17% on fees from local authorities, which can amount to over £200 million a year in total. It looks at how the companies providing these services are increasingly being owned by private equity firms and raises questions about the way some large private providers are financed, with high levels of debt that could potentially create instability in future. It also shows how opaque the system has become, with detailed and complex investigation needed to understand the ownership, accountability, profits, costs, and prices of different providers – and the situation changing rapidly.
As part of this research, the Children’s Commissioner’s Office spoke to children in care and care leavers about their experiences of the care they received from providers. Most were not concerned by who owned their care home, but they did care deeply about the care they receive and the people who give it.
The report shows that differences in the quality of care – as measured by Ofsted ratings – between local authorities and large private providers are generally small, but smaller private providers are more likely to have worse Ofsted ratings than large private providers. At the same time, however, the majority of children’s homes are rated “Good” or “Outstanding”, regardless of whether they are run by local authorities or the private sector.
The third report published today, “The 2020 Stability Index”, is the Children’s Commissioner’s fourth annual study of the instability that children in care experience. This year’s update shows that:
Following today’s reports, the Children’s Commissioner is making a number of recommendations to improve the provision of children’s social care in England, including that:
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:
“These reports focus on the children that Government has been ignoring and seemingly doesn’t know what to do with: those in the care system systemically let down because there isn’t a good, safe, welcoming home for them.
“Only last month, a High Court judge wrote to me after an extremely vulnerable child in care could not get a suitable care home place anywhere in the country, even though the courts had found that their life was in danger. These shocking cases used to be rare but are now routine, and I am worried the whole system is becoming immune to the devastating effect this is having on children who may have previously been abused and neglected, or have serious mental or physical health needs. These children are being failed by the state.
“The growing reliance on private providers, some of whom are making millions, is another symptom of a system failing to prioritise the needs of children. Both the government and councils have failed in their responsibilities by leaving it to the market. Many homes run by the private sector are excellent, but there are not enough of them, and they are not always in the right places.
“There are many tireless staff who provide excellent care, and many children in care are happy and doing well. But over the last five years, I have seen the system left to slip deeper into crisis, seemingly unable to stop some of the most vulnerable children from falling through the gaps, and buckling under financial pressures. Nobody seems to have a grip, despite repeated warnings from myself, Parliament and the National Audit Office.
“The Government needs a strategy to fix problems that it already knows exist. It must also launch the independent review into children’s social care promised in the Conservative manifesto.”
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