Councils in Scotland need to have a better understanding of residential child care costs if they are to provide good value and efficiency, according to Audit Scotland.
Children in care cost Scottish councils at least £250m a year but auditors said councils were unable to assess their total spend because there are no full estimates of indirect costs.
In a report for the Accounts Commission and the Auditor General for Scotland, the watchdog said councils, government and NHS boards ought to manage residential child care services better and ensure care plans had clear action points and long-term goals.
“[Councils] need to ensure they act as corporate parents, improve their understanding of what leads to the best outcomes and focus on the support they provide for the long-term needs of each child or young person, as any good parent would for their own child,” said commission chair John Baillie.
Scotland’s auditor general, Robert Black, said planning and managing services with a clearer focus on longer-term outcomes did not necessarily mean spending more money.
“Given the relatively small numbers of children looked after in residential care across Scotland and the very specialised nature of the services, there is considerable scope for a national strategic approach,” Black said. “It is encouraging that the Scottish government has already set up a strategic implementation group involving councils, NHS boards, residential care providers and other partner organisations, but this must lead to urgent action.”
Michelle Miller, president of the Association of Directors of Social Work in Scotland, said the report raised serious issues about the commissioning of residential child care and highlighted the importance of ensuring purchased services delivered good value and the highest possible quality of care.
However, she was disappointed that the report did not direct more attention to health services.
“Children and young people in residential and secure care need support from all agencies, including social work, education, housing and health, and in particular from child and adolescent mental health services,” she said.
“Disappointingly, Audit Scotland aims only one of its recommendations at the health service, despite the vital role that it can play and the huge difference it can make.”
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