The latest statistics show that 6,000 children are currently placed by local councils in institutional care, children’s homes. That is about nine per cent of the children in care or “Looked After Children.” The number has been tending to come down slightly – in 2010 it was 6,220 which was about ten per cent of the “LAC population.” For the children concerned it is a disastrous outcome.
Wherever possible it should be avoided. Children are much better off in the family setting of foster carers and much better still with the permanent loving home that adoption offers.
This principle is, surely, widely accepted, yet for years councils would shrug and say that given the circumstances of the children concerned there was no alternative to a children’s home placement. Now councils are facing budget cuts and some of them have suddenly decided that perhaps an alternative is possible after all.
For any child to be kept in a children’s home unnecessarily is a scandal. Of the 6,000 there are 200 in “secure units” so that is understandable that they would not be deemed suitable for foster carers to cope with. Yet, on the other hand, many of 6,000 are able bodied and in mainstream schools. This survey found that 41 per cent were in mainstream schools or FE colleges.
Only nine per cent were in Pupil Referral Units – even then it does not follow that placement with foster carers would be impossible. There is a chicken and egg aspect. Of course children living in such institutions are more likely to misbehave and be excluded from school.
There is also a wide variation in the proportion of Looked After Children in children’s home. Why should it be 22 per cent in Barnet and 17 per cent in Brent, yet five per cent in Croydon? Or 17 per cent in Camden but three per cent in Southwark? Why is it 16 per cent in Bracknell Forest, yet two per cent in Southampton?
The good news is that due to financial pressures councils are starting to do the right thing and close some of these homes. That does not mean they are doing it for the wrong reason exactly – reducing the cost to the Council Taxpayer is hardly an ignoble mission. But the principal consideration should be minimising such placements for the interests of the children concerned, however much money a council has.
Manchester City Council is due to close four children’s homes this year. In Cornwall two are closing – both rated inadequate by Ofsted. Salford is seeing one close. I have already noted Croydon and Birmingham councils making similar decisions.
This is the time of year when councils publish their budget proposals. Children’s Homes closures is becoming a regular item. For example Leicestershire County Council proposals say:
“By placing more children with families rather than in children’s homes, being more cost-effective with care placements and re-shaping services, we’re proposing to reduce the budgets for children in care and safeguarding.”