In a time of growing demand and diminishing resources, it is time to widen the lens in order to better understand and manage demand.
To support the launch of our new programme Valuing Care, we have written an article setting out our thoughts around the state of the market for children becoming looked after. I thought it would be useful to summarise some of our views here.
Anyone working in the children’s services sector will have noticed the significant and high-profile policy focus on increasing adoption rates over the last five years. Unfortunately, this focus has taken everyone’s attention off a bigger growing crisis that is facing us: our ability to find placements for children who remain ‘looked after’.
There are some parts of the country where authorities have seen a 50% increase in LAC numbers over the last four years. This trend is unsustainable. It is also leading to some quite alarming situations when trying to place children in safe environments, including:
· Children’s pen pictures being unsuccessfully matched for up to nine weeks
· Children having to be placed in hotels over weekends
· Children placed hundreds of miles away as there is no local provision
These might be extreme examples, but they contribute to a picture of a stubbornly high level of placement breakdown, which in turn creates a cycle of poor outcomes for children in care. We need to ensure that placements don’t just ‘contain’ a child but help them thrive in care – and beyond. We know that when a placement works and is truly developed to meet the child’s needs in the short, medium, and longer terms, it will have a significant, positive, and lasting impact.
With the government’s thoughts primarily centred on Brexit, and the lack of attention given to children’s welfare in the Queen’s speech, the sector will have to grasp the nettle by itself.
We need to fix the placements market, but how to do it? You’ll have to read the full article for the detailed answer, but below are three critical steps we need to take.
Firstly, and most importantly, we need to have a more much precise way of understanding the needs of looked after children, and how these can be met by either council-managed carers or those in the independent market. To help do this, we have started working with authorities to develop a way of matching resources to needs, which we are now developing into the Valuing Care programme.
Secondly, we need to develop our collective commissioning skills. Currently, commissioning is far too undeveloped in local authorities for an area of such importance. With a better view of actual needs, we would be able to commission smarter, shape the placements market to allow it to respond effectively and better evaluate how a child is being supported.
Thirdly, we need to tackle demand. This means protecting early intervention services and ensuring they collectively aim to confront the root causes that lead to families breaking down and children entering care in the first place.
You can read our article on the MJ website. I hope it provides some thought-provoking ideas. If you have any views you’d like to share, or would like to discuss our new, exciting Valuing Care programme further, please get in touch.