It is a sad fact that some children do need to be placed in care because they have suffered or may be at risk of suffering significant harm and that many of them benefit from the stability and protection this affords whether temporary or long term. However, a recent report issued by the National Audit Office on 27th November 2014 has brought to light the shortcomings of the Department of Education in meeting the care needs of children in foster and residential care – notably the ability to acquire a suitable placement for children at the first instance.
The Department of Education is the governmental body which holds local authorities accountable for adequate delivery of foster and residential care services, yet it has been highlighted in this report that the department lacks any kind of coherent indicator system by which it can effectively measure the success or failure of these services. The brevity of this fundamental shortcoming is underlined when viewed in conjunction with recent figures.
In 2012-13 approximately £2.5 billion was spent by local authorities on support for children in foster and residential care placements. This equates roughly to a 3% real terms increase since the period of 2010-11.
Despite such increases in spending, 34% of children in care had more than one placement and 11% had 3 or more placements. The issue here is that these figures haven’t improved in the last four years.
What does this mean to some of the children in care? Children’s early experiences can have long-term impacts on their emotional and physical health, social development, education and future employment. Local authorities take children into care to improve outcomes for them but children in care do less well in school than their peers. In 2012/13 15% of children in care achieved 5 or more GCSEs at grades A* to C compared with 58% of children not in care. It is evident then, that children in care require their learning and development needs assessed correctly first time to minimise any long-term detriment through delays in accommodating those needs.
What does this mean to us? To put simply, it’s a cost to society. More and more of the taxpayers money is being ploughed into providing care, with no improvements for those in the system, or those funding it.
Most concerning of all is the fact that the report highlights local authorities sometimes basing their decisions on short-term affordability rather than on plans to best meet the child’s needs. Such decision making is clearly counter-productive in providing long-term progress. It is important to stress that this does not apply to all decisions taken by all Local Authorities – on many occasions decisions are child centred and necessary.
The new innovation programme (announced October 2013) desperately needs to be put to good use to break this broken pattern and provide a long needed development in how the department handles care.
Change is needed.