It is the job of the state and not a private company to keep our children safe - GP Taylor
Sadly, they are no more. In fact, a galling statistic is that around 80 per cent – four in five – of all children’s homes in England are now being delivered by for-profit companies. It is estimated that these companies made a total of £310m in profit.
The top 20 largest children’s home providers were paid a staggering £1.63bn last year alone. That’s right, as outlined in this paper last week, they were paid £1.63bn. That is enough money to pay for 27,000 nurses and 9,000 consultants for one year and still have money left over.
Bradford Council is currently paying for 196 children to stay in privately-run homes, at an average cost of almost £312,000 per child per year. The government’s own statistics reported 80,850 children in care in 2021 which is an increase of 25 per cent since 2010. The financial costs are staggering and a lot is going into the pot of private companies.
According to government statistics, on the 31st of March 2018, Local Authorities ran 19 per cent of all children’s homes, compared with 23 per cent in 2015. In 2018, more than one in four local authorities (44) did not run any children’s homes in their area.
This has resulted in children from Yorkshire being sent to homes as far away as Devon. In its 2018-19 annual report, Ofsted reported that, on March 31, 2018, around half of all children living in children’s homes were placed more than 20 miles from home; 60 per cent were living outside of their ‘home’ local authority. I don’t think in this day and age that this is acceptable.
Marium Haque, Bradford’s Strategic Director of Children's Services, said: “For certain placements there'll be maybe upwards of 30 children all being put forward. They go through and decide which child they want to pick and then charge whatever they want.”
Behaviour like this is not fair on children already traumatised by parental separation. Yorkshire needs children’s homes for Yorkshire children. It is of utmost importance that they can be kept in the same area and continue with an uninterrupted education.
It is ridiculous that there are only just over 2,300 children’s homes for the entire country. This shows a complete neglect of care for children who can have very complicated issues.
I have to ask, if we are spending so much money on children’s homes, why are they not being run by the state? Surely, with a budget of £1.63bn there could be local homes for children run by Social Services at a standard compliant with Ofsted. How can caring for children be quantified if driven by making a profit?
A recent report found that on average, for-profit children’s homes receive worse Ofsted ratings and violate more statutory requirements than those run by charities and local councils.
It is totally outrageous that the welfare of the most vulnerable in our society has been handed over to private companies who seek to make a vast profit from caring for children in need. There are some social provisions that must be kept within the state and looking after children is one of them. It is the job of the state and not a private company to keep our children safe. It is not something that should be outsourced.
Local councils must take responsibility themselves and stop paying private companies and set up their own facilities to house children in need. Good quality care homes across the county run by the county are the only way forward.
Children in care have very complicated needs and accommodation with first class support should be on offer to all in need. I believe that this would be best provided by Local Authorities. Such services must be fully accountable for every penny spent, money for childcare and not company profits. Children’s homes are only one aspect of helping young people in difficulty.
More money must be found to support the amazing foster carers who look after 9 out of 10 children in care. Being a foster parent must be financially viable and not just treated as a vocation. Foster care is a positive alternative to being in a children’s home and has to be recognised as such.
Government figures show that year on year, more children are needing to be looked after outside the family. This is not a problem that will go away overnight. It must be solved with a multi-agency approach. Yet, I feel totally uncomfortable that private care providers are involved.
Children with educational and emotional needs are not a financial commodity to be bartered over. Their welfare should not be at stake for the making of a profit. Local Authorities must understand the responsibilities they have to the children in their area.
Modern, well-staffed, small, residential homes must be provided locally on a not-for-profit basis.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster who lives in Yorkshire.