Children in care being ‘failed by the state’

The children’s residential social care system is broken and failing many of the most vulnerable children, reports by the Children’s Commissioner reveal.

The reports, published by Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, highlight the issues faced by children who are being failed by the care system and the growth of private companies providing foster placements and children’s homes.

Two of the reports, The children who no-one knows what to do with and The 2020 Stability Index highlight the instability that children in care experience as well as the issues those who have been failed by the system face.

The commissioner revealed that 13,000 children ending up in unregulated homes at some point during the las year and 8,000 children had three different homes in a single year.

It found that one in 10 children in care moved home at least twice in 2018/19, while one in four moved home at least twice in two years.

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.

Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, said: ‘These reports focus on the children that the 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 third report, ‘Private provision in children’s social care’, found that children’s home providers are making more than £200m a year in profits.

It revealed that the number of children in homes provided by the private sector has grown by 42% between 2011 and 2019, while local authority provision has not kept pace and has actually shrunk in some areas.

The commissioner said the companies providing these services are increasingly being owned by private equity firms and questioned the way some large private providers are financed, with high levels of debt that could potentially create instability in future.

And that certain large providers are seeing a profit margin of around 17% on fees from local authorities, which can amount to more £200 million a year in total.

Ms Longfield said: ‘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.’

The Children’s Commissioner is calling on the government to set out a strategy to improve capacity, stability, quality and costs in residential care.

It says a central body (whether DfE, Ofsted or a new regulator) should be responsible for assessing current and future levels of need for care provision, both locally and nationally.

It’s also asking the government to launch the Care Review that was promised in the Conservative manifesto, with an independent chair and a remit to consider the broad structure of children’s care provision, along with a system that is more transparent, accountable and outcome-oriented.

Ms Longfield said: ‘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.’

A Department for Education spokesman said supporting the most vulnerable children in the country is a priority for this government, and every young person in care deserves appropriate, safe accommodation that supports them in the best way possible.

‘The Education Secretary has been clear that no child should be denied the opportunity for a loving, stable family life, or be ‘bounced around’ the care system in accommodation that does not meet their needs.

‘We have also set out that children under the age of 16 should not be living in unregulated homes.

‘Our bold, broad and independently-led Care Review will launch as soon as possible, and will support improvements in the children’s social care system.

‘This will build on the millions we have invested in secure children’s homes and in projects designed to increase capacity and improve how places for these children are commissioned.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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