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

Lead Teacher of Thinking School Drive Team and Year 3 Form teacher

Competitive: Notting Hill Prep School: Spring Term 2015 Innovative, ambitious ...

DT Teacher - Textiles

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Design and Technology Teacher ...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past