Plans for 15 new children’s homes triggered by ‘broken’ care market

Posted on - 17th April, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Fylde News, Health, Housing, Preston News, Redevelopment, Ribble Valley News, South Ribble News, Wyre News
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston

Plans by Lancashire County Council to create 15 new children’s homes were prompted by the emergence of a “voracious” market for private placements that does not best serve the interests of vulnerable young people.

That was the assessment of the authority’s cabinet member for children and families as she and her colleagues gave the go-ahead to what will amount to a doubling of the children’s residential facilities operated by County Hall.

Cosima Towneley said the move was a significant moment in a three-year journey to increase the tally of county council children’s homes, but warned there was still “much to do to bring the whole vision…to fruition”.

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It will mean an extra 40 beds will be added to the 60 already available in existing local authority homes in Lancashire, but the scheme marks a shift away from the usual six-bed home in favour of what County Cllr Towneley said would be “smaller, more personal settings”.

“[These] are more suited to the sorts of needs being expressed by the children coming into our care,” the Conservative cabinet member added.

The authority intends to create four four-bedroomed homes and 11 two-bed premises, as well as two ‘crisis beds’ in an existing home.

It comes against the backdrop of ballooning bills for places in private sector children’s homes, which can be in excess of £6,000 per week for those youngsters with the most complex needs.

County Cllr Townley added that while the authority had a “very good relationship” with private operators, it was” not a given” that a child in need of a placement would necessarily be accepted into one of their homes.

“This continues to leave us in a very difficult position with regard to our statutory duty and so we knew we needed to ensure that we had our own safe and secure homes – because dependency on private provision was fuelling a voracious market and not one that…works necessarily to the advantage of our children in care or county council resources,” she explained.

The authority estimates that the annual bill for its new in-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.

Deputy Labour opposition group leader Lorriane Beavers welcomed the investment in council-run facilities.

“It’s clear that the market in children’s care is broken…and it’s really encouraging to see the Conservative group admitting that the market isn’t always the answer,” said County Cllr Beavers.

The meeting heard that a broader overhaul of Lancashire County Council’s children’s services in recent years had led to a reduction in the number of young people coming into care, which County Cllr Towneley attributed to working with families “before they hit crisis point”.

“If a child needs to be taken into care – possibly the most traumatic event after a series of traumatic events – the county council, as the corporate parent, believe[s] we offer the best future life opportunity for that Lancashire child,” she added.

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