Bedspace Head of Children’s Residential, Daniel Wilson, discusses the pressures on local authorities looking after children, and makes a plea for properties to help Bedspace support the issue.
Pre-pandemic, local authorities in England were already under significant pressure, as budget cuts made the increasing number of children being put into care difficult to manage.
Following nearly two years of Covid restrictions and lockdowns the problem has been exacerbated. Now, new analysis predicts that the number of children in care in England could reach almost 100,000 by 20251.
This increase will represent a 36% rise in a decade, putting unprecedented pressure on already struggling local authorities. Ultimately, the people who will feel this increase most are the vulnerable children in care. The systemic problems that are causing this increase, and the issues created once they are in care, need to be tackled before we reach crisis point.
Why are the numbers of children in care increasing?
The Local Government Association has advised that councils in England need £2.7bn more in funding for children in social care by 2024-251. However, as it stands decisions are being made based on what will cut costs, instead of what’s in the best interest of the children who need support. These short-term money saving decisions are leading to more children being put into care and are and causing further problems down the line.
Long-term budget cuts have resulted in local authorities reducing spending on preventative measures, and as a result support for some vulnerable families has decreased. The closure of early intervention support measures, such as community hubs for struggling families, has meant that more vulnerable children are reaching crisis point.
Obviously, this negatively impacts the lives of these children, but in the long-term removing this early intervention also costs Local Authorities more, as many children will move into care as a result.
The issues created for young people
In addition to the lack of preventative measures there are several other issues that need to be tackled in the children’s care sector.
In my opinion the biggest is lack of forward planning or matching when putting children into care. Short-sighted decisions by local authorities, including children being placed in any available home across the country, regardless of where they are from, has led to poorly matched placements which can result in difficult or dangerous incidents and disruption.
In addition, the low budgets local authorities are dealing with mean that they are unable to provide the same level of service once a child is put into care. Despite councils increasing budget in the past two years, and eight in 10 councils in England overspending in 2019/2020, the impact of long-term budget cuts mean there’s still not enough funding to provide appropriate care and deal with the ever-increasing demand.
The pressure relating to cost of placements in children’s homes means that at age 16, children are often rushed into moving on to cheaper alternative accommodation before they are ready. This focus on costs, rather than the child’s wellbeing and the support they need, can undo the progress that a child has made up until that stage. It is well known that the ‘cliff edge’ from children’s homes to adulthood can result in very poor outcomes.
The only way to make this process easier to provide intensive support around transitions, or integrated services that enable continuity in order to ensure children to develop successfully.
What is the solution?
In the first instance, to prevent the rapid increase in the number of children in care, there needs to be a reconsideration of the way decisions are made within local authorities. Even with limited budget, decision makers need to invest now in support services within the community to prevent vulnerable children reaching the point where they end up in care.
Moreover, is it essential that there are carefully thought-out planning processes in place to match children to the best homes for them and the community, if they are put into care.
We need to see wider variety of organisations providing residential care homes. Different providers will have different approaches to care. Having a more varied range of providers and more competition in the sector, will not only increased standard of care, but will lead to a diversity of ideas that will support the long-term improvement of the sector.
Finally, and most importantly, it is crucial that children’s homes provide a family-like and supportive environment for the children that live there. Children in care must have care pathways that provide a safe and ongoing transition into other areas of support. Providers should work with local authorities to constantly review placements and provide a flexible provision of much needed support for these vulnerable children.
For the benefit of both the local authorities and the vulnerable children in our communities, we need to act now to solve what is becoming an ever more pressing issue.
In line with this increase of children entering care outlined above, we at Bedspace, want to be forward-thinking and ensure that we are acquiring the best standard of property for the vulnerable people in our society. We want to work with like-minded and socially-conscious landlords and investors to provide high standard property in the areas of Manchester, Preston, Liverpool and Leeds.
To learn more about our property requirements, the benefits of joining Bedspace as a property owner and contact information for our Housing Team see Bedspace Property Requirements or find us on our website at www.bedspace.co.uk/landlords