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Children's homes fees make report recommendations difficult to implement

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The recently published final report, Children’s social care market study, by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found significant areas of concern within privately owned fostering agencies and providers. The study identified various problems within the private sector specifically they identified, challenges with the recruitment, retention and support to foster families, issues with both recruiting and retaining staff and children’s homes that charge extortionate fees not consistently meeting the holistic needs of a child/ young person.

It is vital to understand the negative impact of these findings on the lived experiences of children and young people in care now and those who have recently transitioned to become care leavers. It is also important to hold in mind that there are many privately run fostering agencies and children’s home provisions (some agencies offer both) consistently offering high quality care for children and young people.

The recommendations from the CMA report fall under three key areas as follows:

  1. Recommendations to improve commissioning, by having some functions performed via collaborative bodies, providing additional national support and supporting local authority initiatives to provide more in-house foster care;
  2. Recommendations to reduce barriers to providers creating and maintaining provision, by reviewing regulatory and planning requirements, and supporting the recruitment and retention of care staff and foster carers;
  3. Recommendations to reduce the risk of children experiencing negative effects from children’s home providers exiting the market in a disorderly way, by creating an effective regime of market oversight and contingency planning

The report makes nation specific recommendations for England, Wales and Scotland.

Within the sector no-one would dispute these necessary areas for immediate development, however, they are also ambitious in the current climate. Local Authorities are acutely aware of the impact of sufficiency issues, decisions made to move children and young people out of area away from their schools, familiar communities and support networks are having to be made far too frequently. The impact of these decisions on children and young people can be devastating.

One of the key challenges is the amount of money that Local Authorities pay to privately run agencies for a child/ young person to be cared for in a children’s home setting, on average £5,000 - £12,000 per week per child. Therefore, it is essential that new regulatory bodies can ensure these fees are capped to prevent further competitive fee increases. Arguably, if these fees were reduced this would allow Local Authorities to spend money on competitive recruitment campaigns for carers, explore opening up Local Authority run ‘local’ to the area children’s residential homes and enhancing support available to existing foster carers to promote their skill set and enhance retention rates.

These two articles in Community Care explore the challenges in more detail.

Directors urge 'dismantling' of children's social care market in face of 'immoral' fees

‘Limit profit-making from children’s services or risk cartel’, directors urge