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Children who have experienced abuse and neglect placed 42 miles away on average

New research published by Ofsted suggests that there are too few suitable places for children in care as many are found to be placed miles from where they lived before coming into care.

11/07/22

Children who have experienced abuse and neglect placed 42 miles away on average

Children in the care system are often placed in homes far away from their families because of a lack of suitable places near to where they live, new research suggests.

Ofsted research published last week finds that children are on average placed a distance of 36 miles away from where they lived before coming into care. Children with mental health (44 miles) problems or experience of abuse and neglect (42 miles), are likely to be living the furthest away from their home prior to coming into care.

Children living in homes that stated they could accommodate complex health needs, sensory impairment and physical disabilities generally lived closer to their home prior to coming into care (an average of 26, 23, and 21 miles respectively).

The children’s social care inspectorate said that children’s homes were not evenly distributed across the regions of England, and that there were no close relationships between the children’s needs, where the homes were situated and what needs those homes met. Just 5% of England’s children’s homes (7% of places) are located in London, but London local authorities placed 11% of all children living in homes. In contrast, local authorities in the North West placed 19% of children living in children’s homes, but 25% of all homes (23% of places) are located in the region.

Four in five homes (80%) said they could accommodate two or more areas of need, with one fifth (20%) saying they could accommodate only one area. Providers that stated they could accommodate children with complex needs were the most common (93%), while sensory impairment (4%) and complex health needs (5%) were the least common. The research did, however, find that there was no link between the types of needs that homes said they could accommodate and their Ofsted inspection grades.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Children’s Social Care, said that the data paints a picture of a “national challenge”.

“[The research] suggests that Local Authorities are making a difficult choice between placing a child either in a home close by, or in one that is far away but relevant to their needs.”

The sufficiency problems within the children’s homes market have previously been highlighted in evidence given to the competition watchdog, where it was said that providers tended to have children’s homes in areas where property was cheaper, rather than where there was a need. The Ofsted report noted that 83% of children’s homes were privately owned on 31 March 2020, a jump from 69% on the same date in 2016.

Giving evidence to the Competition and Markets Authority’s study into the children’s social care market, organisations, including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), criticised the ability of providers to be able to “pick and choose” which referrals they accept and at what price, as well as the uneven geographical spread of homes across the country.

“Typically, the supply of homes hasn’t developed in response to need but rather providers have taken advantage of low-cost accommodation, often in areas with pre-existing challenges which are exactly the wrong areas to place vulnerable teenagers,” the ADCS said in its evidence last May.

“Prices are high. Limited choice means that the commissioner is often not in a good position to negotiate the best care and support for children.” Calling for a ‘national approach’, the regulator said: “No single local authority can resolve these serious sufficiency issues on their own; indeed, a cross-government approach is required.”

In its final report delivered earlier this year, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommended launching new dedicated bodies – called Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) – to “bring an end to profiteering in the children’s social care market” and recruit thousands of new foster carers. The cooperatives are suggested to be local authority-owned regional bodies which will use their “scale and expertise” to provide a wider choice of homes for children closer to where they live.

“The need to fundamentally change the way children’s homes, foster care and secure accommodation are commissioned, recruited to, managed and run, goes beyond addressing the immediate challenges of a shortage of homes, weak market oversight and high profit making and costs,” the report said.

Some in the sector have questioned whether this move will solve the sufficiency crisis as the cooperatives move responsibility away from local authorities, and the implementation of the Care Review’s recommendations may be in turmoil following mass resignations in the Johnson Government and a change of Prime Minister.

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