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Number of children’s homes running by Lancashire County Council to double

Posted on - 8th April, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Fylde News, Housing, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, South Ribble News, Wyre News
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston

Lancashire County Council looks set to double the number of children’s homes it runs in a move the authority claims will improve the lives of young people in its care – and reduce its reliance on costly private placements.

Fifteen new facilities would be created under the plans, which are expected to get the green light from cabinet members next week.

County Hall has previously revealed its intention to boost the number of council-operated homes for looked after children in Lancashire – although the figure now being proposed is far higher than anything previously hinted at in public.

Read more: Plans to turn Walton-le-Dale house into children’s home

If the scheme is approved, it will bring to 30 the tally of in-house facilities – adding an extra 40 beds to the 60 already available in existing homes run by the county council.  That would make the authority the largest operator of council children’s homes in the country.

The county council says the change would make it easier to secure “the right home in the right place and [at] the right time” for Lancashire children, as well as giving them greater stability. However, a report to be presented to the cabinet acknowledges the risk of “concerns from residents about the location and operation of homes in their area”.

The proposal comes against the backdrop of the ballooning cost of beds in privately-run children’s homes – especially for those with the most complex needs. In Lancashire, just 15 percent of the children in the county council’s care live in so-called “agency” homes, yet they account for almost half of the placements budget.

A recent report into County Hall’s financial performance suggested that savings achieved as a result of a reduction of the number of children in the care system in Lancashire – some of whom are in foster care – was being swallowed up by an increase in the youngsters with “extremely complex needs” who require a suitable children’s home placement.

According to cabinet papers, 83 children are currently living in homes that are classed as high cost – generating bills of £6,000 or more per week.

The authority estimates that the annual bill for its-house facilities, including repayment of the borrowing needed to buy them, will be £15.1m from 2027/28 – a saving of around £2.1m on agency placements.

The 15 existing in-house children’s homes run by the county council are typically larger facilities designed for young people with lower-level needs. That means the authority often has to turn to private providers.

While Lancashire has more children’s homes across the private and public sector than any other local authority in England – 274 in total – 70 percent of the private agency facilities are not providing homes for Lancashire children, the cabinet report says.

County councillors have previously raised concerns about Lancashire children being looked after in other parts of the country as a result of the lack of local placements for them.

How will it work?

Lancashire County Council says it wants to acquire four 4-bedroomed homes, eleven 2-bedroomed properties and two solo “crisis beds” in an existing children’s home.

The facilities – both current and newly-established – would be arranged in six clusters of between five and eight homes.  They would be overseen by a ‘responsible individual’ – an official role required as part of the process of registering with the regulator Ofsted.

A group of homes within each cluster would be overseen by a Home Manager, each of whom would be responsible for between seven and eight children.

A report to cabinet members notes the challenge for a local authority of running so many children’s homes – including a possible reputational risk depending on the ratings given to the facilities by Ofsted.

“Lancashire’s in-house service has a good track record of successful integration within communities and of operating good or outstanding homes, but it will be challenging to ensure that all homes are rated as such at any point in time,” the document states.

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