Independent Voices, Indy Voices

Is it acceptable to profit from the social care of vulnerable children?

With 78 per cent of children's homes not in community hands, we need to examine whether privatisation has been in the best interests of the child

Share
Related Topics

Around 5000 of the nation’s most vulnerable children live in children’s homes, many of which are run by private contractors, and some of these have given rise to concerns about poor standards. Ofsted inspections have found that 28 per cent of privately owned children’s homes are below a good standard, while 63 privately run homes are in the worst ‘inadequate’ category. Many of the nation's children's homes are located in dangerous and deprived areas unsafe for children, including the worst crime hot spots, many known for sex work.  Further figures from the UK Missing Children's Bureau indicate that each year 10,000 children go missing from care.

Concern about the adequacy of safeguarding arrangements for children in care homes led to the Government launching a public consultation this summer on how to strengthen the protection of these children. The consultation closed in September. The Government stated it would respond to the consultation 'later in the year'. As we move into the first week of 2014 the Government has only just published its response. The measures announced are certainly welcome, but the consultation as a whole fails to ask key questions about the kind of children’s home provision we as a nation want for neglected children.

With 78 per cent of children's homes not in community hands, we need to know what added value the private sector brings to the lives of children in care – and to the public interest. Has privatisation been in the best interests of the child? Children in care are the most vulnerable children in society. Around one half of them have been taken into the care because of a history of trauma, neglect or abuse.  If the state places a child in care, it has a duty to provide better protection than the parents did.  So what kind of care do children’s homes give them?

Figures from the Personal Social Services Research Unit reveal that the annual cost of placement in a private children's home is £4000 per week, whereas local authority care costs £3000 (by comparison a foster care placement costs £637). Therefore it is extraordinary that over a quarter of private sector homes cannot provide a good level of care when they receive £50,000 a year more per child. With the significant levels of funding on offer to the private sector, children’s homes can provide outstanding care.  Indeed, 15 per cent of private sector homes have been ranked as outstanding.  So how have we got to this point?

Over the last 20 years the private sector share of children’s homes has more than doubled, with local authorities now only running 22 per cent of homes.  We have a burgeoning and buoyant ‘market’ in the provision of care for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. Annually this private sector childcare market is worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

As former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP noted, this has resulted in an ‘increasing move into the market by private equity funds.’  Advanced Childcare Limited, Britain’s largest provider of children's homes, is owned by a US private equity firm GI Partners.  One third of its 130 homes in England are below a good standard. In the very last sentence of the Department for Education’s Data Pack on Children’s Homes in England, the Government states that it is exploring how to find ‘improvements in the market’ to provide better outcomes for children. The assumption is that the market will find the solution.

With almost 80 per cent of residential homes not being in community hands, We need to ask whether we have the right balance between the private and public sector.  We need to know whether the extra £50,000 a year per child it costs to house children with private contractors is money well spent. Does child protection remain sufficiently prioritised over profit?

We need a debate about whether - and to what extent - it is acceptable to profit from the social care of vulnerable children.  If profits are being taken out of the system, we need to consider carefully whether they might better be reinvested in the care system. We need a forthright debate about the kind of residential home provision we as a nation want - and the children we send there deserve.

Edit: This piece was updated on 3rd January following earlier publication of the Government's report on children in care

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine