Delays and instability when taking a child into care cost councils £32,755 a child each year, according to a report from the think-tank Demos.
Commissioned by charity Barnardo’s, In Loco Parentis compares the journey of a child who enters care aged three and has long-term foster care with one going into care at 11, who has two attempts to be reunified with a birth familiy and repeated short-term foster care placements.
The difference in cost of the two journeys was £41,526, while the difference in cost to the state of the two children after leaving care was estimated at £91,804.
Demos said the figures showed that the care system must be “de-stigmatised” and viewed as a positive form of family support. It recommended strengthening care planning guidance to ensure fewer failed family reunifications.
It also recommended that foster carers receive mental health training and more respite care on request. The care leaving age should be raised to 18 with a right to remain in placements until 21 or return to care until they turn 24.
Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey said: “We must urgently adopt a more proactive and positive use of care, one where care is used earlier and more effectively so that it becomes a means of real cost avoidance.”
The research took a year and included quantitative analysis, expert interviews, international scoping, domestic case studies and focus groups.