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5 October 2022
Groundbreaking new research from the University of Oxford has found that privatising children’s social care services is resulting in worse care for children in England.
The paper, authored by University of Oxford researchers Anders Malthe Bach-Mortensen, Benjamin Goodair, and Jane Barlow, has been published in peer-reviewed journal Science Direct.
By analysing the outcome of Ofsted inspections for 13,000 children’s homes in England, the paper finds that for-profit children’s care providers (the private companies running 80% of children’s care homes) are more likely to be rated of lower quality than public or third sector services.
At the same time, the number of children in care in England has risen by 25% since 2010. Most of these children are placed in homes due to abuse or neglect.
The number of children in care with intense needs has also increased, and local authority budgets have been slashed. This is resulting in many children being placed in unregulated homes, moved far away from their area, or being left without care completely.
This is the first paper to examine the importance of ownership models in children’s care, despite the fact that outsourcing care to private companies has become the dominant model.
Local authorities and campaigners have been raising alarm bells about the state of children’s care for years. Finally, this research definitively proves that they are right: private companies have no place running children’s care homes.
We know that the 10 largest providers of children’s social care placements made more than £300m in profits last year. This research shows that these profits are made at the expense of children’s care.
Local authorities are having to spend more on residential placements, as private costs have risen to £4,000 a week, or about £200,000 a year, for one child to be placed in a home. But even faced with spiralling costs and staff shortages, local authorities are still able to provide better care for children when it’s in-house.
Our councils need to be properly funded to provide this vital care, and contracts handed out to profiteering private companies need to be brought back in house.
Children must be supported to feel safe, loved and cared for. It is scandalous that some of the most vulnerable young people are being let down and used to enrich private shareholders.
It’s time for a total rethink of our care system. The Welsh government has started this process, opening a consultation on ‘plans to eliminate profit-making residential and fostering provision for children in care’.
We need central and local government across the UK to respond to these major findings by planning and coordinating to end private company involvement now.
Read more about children’s services here
Read the full research paper here
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