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Numbers of children needing support ‘unsustainable’, say North East councils

Twelve directors of children’s services from local authorities in the North East of England say current arrangements “do not serve families well and do not lead to the best outcomes for children”, recommending a shift to council-run homes.


Numbers of children needing support ‘unsustainable’, say North East councils

Directors of children’s services from councils in the North East of England have said current arrangements for children’s social care are “unsustainable”.

Submitting evidence to the ongoing wide-ranging Review of Children’s Social Care, social work leaders say levels of poverty in the region have driven continuing rises in child protection intervention and the number of children in care, alongside cuts to early help.

“Spending on early help has reduced at a time when it has been most needed. This vicious cycle can only be broken by different ways of working, backed by adequate investment,” the submission read.

The group say national measures to combat poverty and increased investment, as well as a statutory duty to provide early help, are required to break the cycle of deprivation for the region.

The directors say they want to see a “paradigm shift” away from a binary interventionist system, in favour of an approach based around community and collaboration with families. They say this will require a “more diverse and better skilled” workforce, across the whole spectrum of roles, including family support and youth work, as well as residential and family care.
“A continuum of support to enable professionals to stand alongside parents and help them through difficulties is needed, with child protection, in its widest sense, integral to the offer.”

“New flexible and hybrid specialist roles can bring together knowledge and skills across professional boundaries to support cross-agency working.”

This will require professional networks to ‘hold’ risk in families where children’s needs are not being met, together with realignment of policy and resources from all public agencies to achieve this, the group says.

John Pearce, Chair of the North East Association of Directors of Children's Services, told the BBC: "The numbers of children needing care are unsustainable and a different pattern of care is the only solution. We must address system-wide barriers so that our frontline staff have the capacity to build strong relationships with children and their families to support meaningful change.

"We believe investment in social regeneration should be central to the government's 'levelling up' agenda."

The directors also take aim at what it calls the “dysfunctional ‘market’” for children’s residential care, arguing it “must be dismantled or radically overhauled and profit-making eliminated or capped.”

Peter Sandiford, CEO of the Independent Children’s Homes Association, disagrees with call to dismantle the current independent residential care sector or move it piecemeal into local authority stewardship.

“Local authorities, despite their massive infrastructures, do not currently run their homes any better or more cheaply than independent providers. There is nothing to suggest that returning homes to local authorities will miraculously change this,” Sandiford said.

“We call instead for a change in how homes are used. Early use with collaborative foster care that enables children to transition better and have improved outcomes is just one way. Stopping using homes as a last resort is another.”

Both the Review of Children’s Social Care in England, and the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) have been investigating the issue of private sector profits in the children’s social care market.

In January Josh MacAlister, then Chief Executive of Frontline and now Chair of a wide-ranging review of children’s social care in England, wrote to CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli saying an investigation by the authority would “provide invaluable evidence to my review”.

The CMA launched its study of children’s social care provision in March this year to establish why a lack of availability and increasing costs could be leading to the needs of children in care not being met.

The CMA, a non-ministerial Government department responsible for preventing and reducing anti-competitive activities and strengthening business competition, said at the time that it is in a unique position to “lift the lid on this complex sector” and find solutions to problems it uncovers.

Around 16,000 children currently live in residential care, including children’s homes and independent or semi-independent living accommodation. In England, roughly seven in ten children in care are placed in homes run by the private sector, with the figure in Wales rising to 78%.

According to data from the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Childcare, costs charged to local authorities for independent provision of children’s homes have soared by 40% from £2841 per week on average in 2013, to £3970 per week on average in 2019.

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