Unregulated children’s home market worth £120 million, new analysis finds

Analysis finds that despite concerns of safety, private children’s social care providers competed for around £120 million worth of contracts last year.

31/03/21

Unregulated children’s home market worth £120 million, new analysis finds

The unregulated children’s social care market was worth around £120 million despite long-standing concerns over safety of such provisions, a new analysis has found.

Research undertaken by The Guardian studied an online platform on which local authorities advertise contracts to provide social care for children to companies that are often not regulated by Oftsed.

The analysis showed that between July 2020 and January 2021, contracts advertised were worth at least £121.9 million.

The placement of children and young people within unregulated social care settings has long-been controversial, but has come under intensified scrutiny during the course of the pandemic.

Unregulated accommodation is allowed within the law in the UK because the sites are qualified to provide support and not care specifically.

However, critics have raised concerns that have mainly focused on the safety of children and young people within these settings considering that they are not bound by Ofsted standards.

In February, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that it would be illegal to place all children under the age of 16 into an unregulated children’s’ home from September 2021.

Read more about Gavin Williamson’s announcement here:
www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Unregulated-accommodation-banned-for-vulnerable-children-under-16

However, sector bodies expressed concern that the announcement could result in a two-tiered system that would split children’s social care between those under 16 and those over 16.

Speaking to The Guardian, Carolyne Willow, director of charity Article 39, criticised the Government for not ending the use of unregulated children’s homes for all ages.

“It took a year and a half for the education secretary to announce that local authorities would be stopped from putting children in care into unregulated accommodation – but only if they are aged 15 or younger, and only from September 2021,” said Willow.

“Providers of this type of accommodation, the majority of them profit-making, bypass the law governing children’s homes because they don’t provide care to children. How can it be right that children are in the care of the state yet don’t receive care? This is not a hidden scandal, the Department for Education is well aware that extremely vulnerable teenagers are going without care.”

Tulip Siddiq, the shadow minister for children and early years, warned that “thousands of vulnerable children” would continue to be placed within “unsuitable, potentially unsafe accommodation which taxpayers are footing an eye-watering bill for.”

As part of the analysis, The Guardian found a number of examples that demonstrate the scale of the unregulated children’s market.

The newspaper found that Northamptonshire Council published a framework contract worth £32 million for a company to provide supported accommodation to those over 16 for the next four years.

A framework agreement or contract is a deal between authorities and private providers to establish the terms of any future contracts for any given time period.

A spokesperson from the council stressed that the deal was only a framework contract and said that the council would “award individual contracts with service providers as and when needed.”

Enfield Council was found to have awarded £19.5m to 21 suppliers of semi-independent accommodation to run services over the next three years.

A council spokesperson responded that they “take the safety of those in our care and care leavers extremely seriously” and that the provision, though not covered by Ofsed, was monitored by the council “through placement commissioners, social workers, personal advisers, parents/carers and independent reviewing officers.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Education said that independent and semi-independent provision “can be the right option for older children where it is high quality”, and that the Government would be introducing national standards “to raise the bar in the quality of this provision, and unregulated placements will be banned for under-16s from September.”

“This is alongside our work to review the children’s social care system, which will set out to radically reform the system. The independent review will be bold and take a fundamental look at how the system should work for those it is designed to serve,” the spokesperson added.

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