The market for children’s residential homes is operating under a system that suits the providers rather than the children, a Labour MP has warned.
In a Commons backbench debate on children in care, Ann Coffey highlighted that high numbers of young people are being placed in children’s homes miles away from where they live because it is more profitable for private company providers.
Children’s homes continue to be set up in low cost areas that suit the businesses that run them rather than being in the child’s best interests, she warned. This results in clusters of children’s homes in cheap property spread unevenly across the country meaning local authorities have little choice but to place children miles from home.
According to 2014 statistics, more than a third of children ae being placed in children’s homes more than 20 miles or more from their local authority. One in 14 children over the age of 10 were living more than 50 miles away from their home area.
Seventy nine per cent of homes are in the private or voluntary sector and the private homes can charge more than £3,600 per child per week and more than £5,000 a week for children with complex needs.
Children in children’s homes are more likely to go missing frequently putting them at risk of harm and child sexual exploitation. In 2012 the government made a number of recommendations to help remedy the unequal distribution of children’s homes in the market and to mitigate the impacts of children being placed at distance.
Ms Coffey said: “It is disappointing that progress is slow. We have still got the continuing problem of the children being sent to where the homes are rather than the homes being where the children are. All of this evidence paints a picture of a market that is run in the interests of the providers not in the interests of children and young people.
“Clearly these big private equity firms do not invest in children’s homes for altruistic purposes. It is therefore important that their profits should not be at the expense of the needs of the children.”
Ms Coffey said that she hoped the current investigation into children’s residential care by Sir Martin Narey would set out proposals to ensure that children are not being put at risk by being placed long distances from their home areas.
She said it was vital that the £1 billion currently being spent by local authorities on children’s homes was used to ensure that the best possible care is being provided to meet the needs of looked after children.
Ms Coffey’s speech is available here.