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Commissioning Care

Meeting the needs of children in our care is one of the most important responsibilities for local authorities. However, there are several longstanding barriers we face in meeting our statutory duties, not least because demand for placements far outstrips supply and we do not have the right homes, in the right places, at the right time. That local authorities are the only purchasers of placements and providers can pick which children to accept, has a knock-on effect. As a result, local authorities having to spot purchase costly placements is increasingly common as are highly bespoke arrangements to keep children safe in crisis situations. The Association has been raising these issues for many years, change is needed.

The recently published independent review of children’s social care provides the opportunity to improve the children’s social care system. ADCS has engaged with the review since its inception, and we are ready to work with government, and others, on whatever comes next. There is much in the review that we agree with, for example, rebalancing the system towards earlier ‘Family Help’, backed by national funding is something we have been calling for for some time. On the other hand, we feel, proposed changes to the way in which some placements are commissioned and run could benefit from further thinking through and being carefully tested and trialled before they are implemented widely.

The review proposes the creation of Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) across England that will plan, create, run and commission fostering as well as residential placements, including welfare secure, within a defined sub-regional area. Local authorities will have direct involvement in the running of RCCs and children will continue to be in their care. However, the practicalities of the transfer of duties, powers, budgets and potentially staff to these cooperative arrangements remain unclear, we will need to work through the specifics of this with government to better understand any unintended consequences for children, families and our staff, or challenges that may divert the focus from improving both the experiences and outcomes of children in our care.

The review envisages that RCCs will be able to transform the status quo with greater collaboration, coordination, and planning. Economies of scale and the clout to shape the market are at the heart of this proposal but it is not yet clear to us if anything other than a national approach will be able to achieve these aims, particularly in relation to the residential children’s home market where large players backed by private equity proliferate. It is not clear that groups of 10 - 20 local authorities would have the combined resource or expertise to influence increasingly common multi-national private equity investors and organisations.

Local authorities already work together, locally, regionally, and even sub-regionally, to commission a range of services with varying degrees of success. We are not opposed to exploring different arrangements and in doing so it is important that we learn from what works, and crucially, what doesn’t, so that we can apply this to new systems.

Steve Crocker, ADCS President.

This column first appeared in CYP Now - See article

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