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For-profit outsourcing “consistently associated” with worse placement outcomes for children

An Oxford University study finds that outsourcing is associated with more looked-after children being placed outside their home areas and ‘greater placement instability’ over time.

08/06/23

For-profit outsourcing “consistently associated” with worse placement outcomes for children

The growth in for-profit provision of outsourced children’s services is linked with out of area and unstable placements, according to a new study.

Published by Oxford University’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention, the study reveals for-profit outsourcing is associated with more looked-after children being placed outside their home areas and subsequently greater placement instability.

Led by Dr Anders Bach-Mortensen and Benjamin Goodair, the study confirms suspicions that an additional 17,000 out-of-area placements from 2011 to 2022 may be attributed to increases in for-profit provision.

“Despite the numerous independent reviews and investigations, a significant proportion of children are still being placed in unstable or out-of-area care, exposing already vulnerable children to additional risks,” the authors concluded.

“Our analysis shows for-profit outsourcing is consistently associated with worse placement outcomes among local authorities. This suggests that increasing the already significant proportion of for-profit children’s social placements may not be the most effective strategy to improve outcomes in the children’s social care sector.”

According to the report, by 2022, more than a third (38%) of all children in care are placed with private or for-profit providers – an increase of 9% since 2011. Researchers, however, found a large variation in how much Local Authorities use the for-profit sector.

Perhaps most concerningly, the report observes that increases in for-profit outsourcing are associated with worse placement outcomes on average.

“For-profit outsourcing is consistently associated with more children being placed outside their home Local Authority and greater long-term placement instability.”

“Despite the numerous independent reviews and investigations, a significant proportion of children are still being placed in unstable or out-of-area care, exposing already vulnerable children to additional risks.”

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