Children’s homes need to work with commissioners to produce evidence of their cost-effectiveness and the outcomes they achieve for children, according to a child care expert.
Jonathan Stanley, former manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, said a lack of data about costs and outcomes in residential care was hampering the sector’s ability to prove its worth.
His comments follow the news that Essex Council is planning to close its seven mainstream children’s homes, with expected savings of £1m per year. The proposals will be voted on at a cabinet meeting later this month.
Stanley said there was “still not enough information to ensure local authorities are always making the right decisions for children”. He added: “We need one coherent system where we can do costing and compare different care settings like with like.”
He called for more research into the merits of closing council-run children’s homes and commissioning beds in new homes. “Local authorities need to be clear on what they know about other homes, especially newly established homes. It might be better for them to look at improving their own homes instead,” he said.
Sarah Candy, Essex’s cabinet member for children’s services, claimed last week that the local authority’s homes were no longer meeting the needs of children, and said the council aimed to place as many looked-after children as possible in family settings, including foster care. “We believe a family setting is better for children,” she said.
Essex Council is not the only authority planning to close its children’s homes. Gloucestershire Council closed its mainstream children’s homes between February 2008 and summer 2009, while Lancashire Council is understood to be closing five of its children’s homes imminently.
The closures come as children’s homes around the country are experiencing a downturn in referrals.
One former residential care worker, who spent five years working for a children’s home rated as outstanding, said: “Although councils say they will continue to commission beds externally, we’re not seeing any evidence of that. Referrals are down across the country as councils with slashed budgets look for cheaper options.”
One residential care expert, who did not wish to be named, said the closures of council-run children’s homes felt like, “the beginning of the end of residential child care”.
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