Over the past decade, local authority funding has fallen considerably whilst demand has increased, alongside which the needs of children referred to care are becomingly increasingly complex. This has led to council leaders warning that they will overspend their budgets to meet demand.
The report finds that nearly three-quarters of ‘looked after’ children live with foster parents, which costs local authorities about £1.7bn a year, but the shortage of suitable foster care placements has been exacerbated due to the closure of children’s homes over the past decade.
As budgets came under increased financial pressure during the recession some ten years ago, this led to an increase in the closure of children’s homes, as greater value for money could be achieved by local authorities commissioning children into the care of foster parents, rather than commissioning placements in children’s homes. These services, which have vastly different costs based from a service delivery perspective, led to increased occupancy voids in children’s homes as children were placed with foster parents, which awarded authorities with placements at reduced costs, that in turn led to a major shortage of foster parents. However, this equally led to an increase in foster care placement breakdowns as for some children their needs were best served by alternative placements in children’s homes, where they could be supported by a team of experienced and highly qualified carers.
Since the 1960s, government policy has moved away from residential children's homes, being further fuelled by local authorities’ budget cuts. While 8,000 children currently spend time in children's homes, secure units or living semi-independently, the increase in demand on children’s services and the shortage in suitable placements, in foster care or residential children’s homes, amid increasing financial pressures presents great cause for concern. This is a concern for those currently in need and generations to come, with wider societal implications incurred. Ultimately, the child and their needs should always come first. In last month's Budget, the government announced an extra £84m for children's services over five years, which in reality is akin to sticking a waterproof plaster on an acute traction-required fracture.