Agenda item

Homes for Looked After Children and Cost of Placements

Briefing Note of the Interim Director for Children’s Services


The Board considered a Briefing Note of the Interim Director of Children’s Services which provided an outline to the challenges in finding appropriate residential care for children, including those who have a high level of diverse & complex needs, and consequent impact of the cost of these children’s placements.


Wherever possible children and their families will be supported to remain living together when it is safe to do so. Our Strengths based; outcomes focused Family valued approach seeks to enable families to find the solutions to challenges they face.


Families are supported through Family Network Meetings and Family Group Conferences (FGC) to identify family led solutions. If a child cannot remain in the care of their parent/s, we will explore the wider family network, supporting connected adults to become Kinship (Connected) foster carers, or a Special Guardian.


If this is not viable, a foster placement will be sought, enabling children to receive care and support in a family environment, through either the Coventry Fostering service or via an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA).


For some children, due to their complexity of need, placing them in a children’s home will be deemed the most appropriate care plan and only if our internal children’shomes or block providers cannot care for them, would we seek to explore the wider residential market of commissioned placements.


There are currently 67 children living in a residential children’s home, placed by Coventry Children’s Services, a reduction from quarter one of 9 children. Trend analysis of data shows there is often an increase in June each year as foster carers are unable/ unwilling to care for new children due to planned holidays and carers offering respite support to each other.


A bi-monthly review is undertaken of all children living in residential care, to consider their plans to move on, in line with their care plan. In September 2023, a deep dive review was undertaken of the 74 children who were living in residential care by Children’s Services Leadership Team (CSLT) and a review of the highest cost placements with the Chief Executive and Chief Partnership Officer.


The review identified that there were clear plans for each child living in a children’s home and highlighted the complexity and challenges of finding homes for some of our looked after children.


Although the numbers of children living in a children’s home have reduced, costs have increased for newly commissioned residential placements significantly over the last 12 months.


This is a national challenge as was evidenced in the Competition and Market’s Authority report of March 2022, the Independent Review of Children’s Social care of May 2022, and the Government’s consultation response to this review – Stable Homes: Built on Love (February 2023) there is recognition that the children’s placement market is broken. These problems break down into two main areas. A lack of placements of the right kind, thereby increasing risk of unregulated placements and secondly that larger providers are making materially higher profits, and charging materially higher prices, than we would expect if this market were functioning effectively. There is also a concern around high level of debt some providers have

and impact if they could no longer operate and therefore the impact on individual children and LA’s ability to meet these children’s needs.


Recent reports from Warwickshire & Cambridgeshire highlight the challenges they are facing in relation to the residential market. Warwickshire identified that they are paying 57k per week for one child and Cambridgeshire 85 K.


An outcome from the Care Review is to increase, strengthen & upskill those who work in residential children’s homes. The Strategic lead for Looked after Children (Corporate Parenting) is working with the Department for Education and Ofsted on this, representing the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS). Alongside the Operational Lead for Residential a meeting & visits to some of our children’s homes from 4 DfE representatives, including the Policy Lead - Children’s Homes Workforce took place on the 7th of November.


Councillor P Seaman (Cabinet Member for Children and Young People) echoed the sentiments of the Briefing Note and the difficulties of trying to deliver a service to vulnerable children, young people and families when private companies are having free reign to profit. She supported officers in reassuring the Board that the best options and outcomes were being sought in the difficult landscape of looked after children. She highlighted that some of the current burdens on the service would be eased by the opening of 5 new residential care homes alongside the various recruitment schemes in place.


Councillor R Brown (Cabinet Member for Strategic Finance and Resources) similarly chastised the unregulated and uncontrollable financial profiteering of vulnerable children, young people, and their families. Whilst recognising the valuable and important hard work of officers and staff involved, he stressed the need for an urgent expedited review of the looked after children sector and governmental legislation to control what has become financially unsustainable.


The Board questioned Officers and received responses on a number of matters relating to homes for looked after children and cost of placements including:

-  Family network meetings and conferences and their timeframes.

-  Other agency contributions to costs.

-  Misconceptions from residents and strategies to effectively manage these.

-  DBVSP (Delivering Better Value SEND Program) and its ability to optimise finance for Local Authorities.

-  The process for children when there are no places within Coventry.

-  Health inequalities impact and children with autism.

-  New residential children’s homes and their provision for specialist care.

-  A children’s trust as a potential solution to recruitment.

-  Support from the regional Mayor.

-  Distance of placements from the city for those children with the most complex needs.

-  ICB [define] cooperation.

-  Deprivation of Liberty Orders (DoLs) – costs and decision-making process.

-  Occupancy figures.

-  Residential children’s homes for disabled children and young people.

-  The evolving nature of complex care issues and evolving costs.

-  Refugee and asylum seekers.

-  Potential regulation caps on provision costs.


Councillor P Seaman (Cabinet Member for Children and Young People) thanked officers for the Briefing Note and offered her appreciation to the Board for helping to understand the complexities and bigger picture of the looked after children market.


RESOLVED that the Scrutiny Board:


1. Notes the continued support for the Residential Children’s homes review & Strategy 2023-2026 (Appendix1) and the work being undertaken in relation to sufficiency, including value for money, addressing high-cost placements and improving outcomes for our looked after children.


2. Continues dialogue between the Scrutiny Board, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People and officers on the provision of homes for looked after children and the cost of placements.


3. Offer that the Scrutiny Board visit a newly built home for looked after children to better understand the need for provision.


4. Return this issue to the Scrutiny Board in June 2024 for review.

Supporting documents: