Plan to tackle rising cost of care placements for children

Wirral is set to create more council-run care for children as part of a wider strategy to tackle the increasing cost of private care placements for young people.


The move is intended to help tackle rising costs and continue to improve quality of care for children who need the authority to step in to ensure their safety.


Councillor Tom Usher, cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education, said: “The current system is not working for children or for the public purse.


“A recent report into the changing nature of children’s services showed that some providers were reporting huge returns for investors just as they were hiking the prices that local authorities pay to place children in their homes.


“To tackle this problem we’re creating more in house care for children when they need it – to increase value for money but most importantly give those children high quality placements.”


There are more children looked after in Wirral than in similar authorities, with 842 children looked after on 1 January 2019 – a rate of 124 per 10,000.


Although the highest demand for children becoming looked after by the council currently is those under the age of one year, the largest group of children in care is the 10 to 15 age group – which is also the hardest group to find placements for.


Wirral generally compares favourably with other councils in areas such as placing children with foster carers and keeping children closer to the borough. However, the use of residential placements is higher than the England average and 10% of children looked after by the Council are placed outside Wirral.


A report published earlier this year, the Wirral Children Looked After Sufficiency Strategy, said: “It has become increasingly hard to find placements for Wirral children as the overall demand across all sectors is outstripping supply. Independent Fostering Agencies in the North West have reported having three referrals for every vacancy they have.”


The report said: “Wirral has experienced increased numbers of children in residential care reflecting the lack of available foster placements as the fostering market has become saturated.”


As well as increasing in-house placements, the council is focusing on commissioning places with partners  who prioritise the children’s quality of care as well as increasing foster caring arrangements.


Cllr Usher said: “The numbers of children in care has increased drastically in recent years and, coupled with a national decline in foster carers, has resulted a steep rise in the demand for care placements. Concerns have also been raised that while many providers are providing quality placements, the focus for some is profitability.


“Councils have been seeing eyewatering increases in the cost of these placements and it is time we, as a local authority with responsibility for ensuring all children get the best possible start in life, move towards providing this care ‘in house’ to ensure the children get the care they need at the best possible value to the tax payer .”


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