The top 10 largest children’s care providers made £300m profits the last year.
Is this a good thing?
One would have to say yes, since providers remaining solvent helps the service help children even if there is an increasing involvement of private equity. At the same time however, there is concern that some providers are making excessive profits from providing these homes when the money could be spent on the children. There is concern that the marketization of children’s social care fail to provide children the right services in the right places and disregard the children’s emotional needs.
So how have children in need actually performed in the past year under the care of the system?
Article by Hadaway & Hadaway family solicitors North East in the UK.
Defining children in need
Social care groups in the latest 2021 statistical data covers Children in Need, children on a Child Protection Plan, and Children Looked After.
A child in need is defined under the Children Act 1989 as a child who is unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health or development will be significantly impaired without the provision of children’s social care services, or the child is disabled.
A child in need becomes the subject of a child protection plan if they are assessed as being at risk of harm, at an initial child protection conference. Under the Children Act 1989, a child is looked-after by a local authority if he or she falls into one of the following:
- is provided with accommodation, for a
continuous period of more than 24 hours [Children Act 1989, Section 20 and 21]
- is subject to a care order [Children Act
1989, Part IV]
- is subject to a placement order
Why such a focus on educational outcomes?
Educational attainment is the most easily tracked and objective merit for deciding outcomes for children. School is the main component of a child’s time, provides them with an outlet for socialization with their peers, tracks learning useful life skills, and a child distracted by personal troubles is unlikely to do well in
For Special Education Needs children (SEN) support, the primary addressed need is that of social, emotional, and mental health, followed by addressing moderate learning difficulties, then speech, language, and communication needs.
By the numbers
These figures are the latest from the United Kingdom Statistics Authority as of October 2021.
Children in need
down 0.2% from 2020, now at lowest point since
Children in need per 10,000 children
down from 324 in 2020, now at lowest point in the
Child protection plans
down from 43 in 2020, now at lowest point since
down 7.0% from 2020, driven mainly by a decrease
Concerns about domestic violence towards the parent
remains the most common factor identified at the
Number and duration of assessments
When a child is referred to children’s social care, an assessment is carried out (usually within 45 days working days of a referral) to identify if the child is in need of services. These services can include, for example, family support, leaving care support, adoption support or disabled children’s services (including social care, education and health provision).
Number of assessments in the year
Number of children in need by primary assessment ay 31 March 2021, England
N1 – Abuse or neglect
N2 – Child’s disability or illness
N3 – Parent’s disability or illness
N4 – Family in acute stress
N5 – Family dysfunction
N6 – Socially unacceptable behaviour
N7 – Low income
N8 – Absent parenting
N9 – Cases other than children in need
N0 – Not stated
Average Attainment 8
Children In Need
Children Looked After
There is a drastic difference between the national average and the performance of children in need, which is understandable otherwise they would not be in need of extra care and support in the first place.
As children in need also includes children with increased learning difficulty due to physiological or developmental differences, the average necessarily tracks lower.
The data above has the pre-COVID 2018-2019 figures for comparison to know just how much the pandemic may have to do with educational outcomes.
Attainment scores have increased despite the pandemic’s disruption of regular schooling. What could have driven this performance increase among the deprived and troubled youth?
Performance of Care Providers
The cynic wants to answer ‘relaxed standards’ but there may be another explanation.
On 31 March 2021, there were 3,402 social care providers. This is an 8% increase compared with 31 March 2020, when there were 3,158 providers. Most of this increase can be accounted for by the increase in children’s homes.
– Main findings: children’s social care in England
2021, National Statistics
This can be referred to in this following government-provided graph:
A 10% increase still means several hundred new children’s homes.
This then begs another question: Just how well are child care services performing relative to their outcomes?
Although all regions saw an increase in the number of children’s homes, this is not evenly distributed all across England. The North West still accounts for over a quarter of all children homes. Regular monitoring or assurance visits are what keep child services performing, and COVID-19 also hampered inspection – through three national lockdowns, visits had to be done without grading judgment of care providers.
Almost 60% of all types of children’s homes received a monitoring or assurance visit through 2020 to 2021.
Local authorities’ children’s services (ILACS) judged good or outstanding for overall effectiveness remained at 50% but the number of complaints about providers increased by 18% higher since the last year. However, this is also an increasing trend year after year, so it is difficult to assign whether this comes from institutional failure, COVID, or just general proportionality as care subjects increase.
The following table shows the outcomes for homes that received an assurance visit:
Inspection outcome as at 31 March 2020
Requires improvement to be good
No previous inspections
Outcomes of assurance visits between 1 September
Homes found to have serious and widespread concerns
Homes found not to have serious concerns
Events in the notifications made by children’s homes
Accident or illness
Police called to the home
Allegation or complaint
Child protection enquiry
Child going missing
Child sexual exploitation (CSE)
All other recorded
Everything regarding Family Law in the courts relies upon systems outside of the court to function properly once judgements and orders have been done. The perils of child care through the profit motive have already been publicized, with children’s residential home care market being run 75% by private firms. This by itself is should not a problem, but the profit motive has a tendency to taint even the most well-meaning of efforts.
Children who have been into care are more likely to become homeless or go to prison or discontinue education or training. Are children in need being adequately given the help they need? By the numbers above, were are looking at only 50% effectiveness.
A government-commissioned year-long review of children’s social care is underway in England, and should finish by the end of 2022.
According Josh MacAlister, head of this independent review:
“The CMA study identifies many of the same system problems that I have seen directly impact the lives of children. Children being moved far from their community and the people who love them. Children being matched with carers or homes that are not right for what they need. Children being bounced around from carer to carer.
Further to the direct impact on children, is the concern that money is being drained out of a system that is struggling to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of families. This is why the problems of the children’s social care ‘market’ are systemic to the whole of children’s social care.”
Even as the 10 largest providers of children’s social care are achieving record profits, with total income approaching £1.6bn, with 60% made by the largest four providers – Outcomes First, CareTech, Polaris and Aspris – the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is alarmed by the level of debt taken on by some of the providers. Of the top 20 providers, 9 of them have more debts and liabilities than tangible assets. Private equity is involved at all levels while government spending is being diverted from other areas to deal with spiraling costs and numbers of residential placements.
According to Lucy Nethsingha, deputy chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board:
“Despite increasing their children’s social care budgets, most councils are overspending each year as costs continue to soar. Yet the largest privately-run companies, which provide many residential and fostering homes for children, continue to bring in huge profits. At the same time, many carry significant levels of debt.
“Stability for children in care is paramount if we are to help them to thrive. It is therefore vital that there is oversight of the financial health of these providers to help catch providers before they fall, and ensure company changes don’t risk the quality of provision.”
The childcare market being a market is a danger in of itself, because markets can fail. Institutions may be failures, may be inadequate, may be corrupt, but even as private speculation do inject much needed cash and personnel into the system, motivation is not something easily bough and brings with it the market’s nature as being subject to boom and bust cycles.
Once the review is complete, we may start to get an inkling as to how bad the real situation truly is and what might be done to fix it. Many are instinctively drawn to excessive regulation, but forget that even with all of that, there is still a limit on the number of bodies that can be thrown at the problem and even less time at the courts and offices to deal with the ever-increasing bureaucratic load.