A local council’s most important job is not emptying the bins or filling in potholes, things we see every day. It has one of the most important jobs anyone could have: to be a parent. Local authorities, between them, have parental responsibility for more than 100,000 children in care in the UK. These are some of society’s most vulnerable children, removed from their parents’ care because they have experienced or are at risk of abuse and neglect. It is the most serious responsibility taken on by elected councillors and senior managers in local councils.
In Gloucestershire the County Council’s Children’s Services were rated as “Inadequate” by Ofsted for many years. Thankfully a recent review raised the grading to “Requires Improvement” and the Council has committed to gaining “Good” within two years.
A government review published last week described Children’s Services as in crisis and disconnected from the needs of families they support and the wider interests of the children they care for, “especially when it comes to considering children’s need for connection and love”.
The review blames the government for a “lack of national direction” over children’s care and urges ministers to commit to a five-year, £2.6bn programme to reform a system it says is under “extreme stress”. It says the system is often dysfunctional and struggles to provide proper care due to a lack of funding, soaring costs and a workforce recruitment crisis.
Criticism is levelled especially at children’s homes. In the 1970s and 1980s children’s homes were owned and run by local councils and charities. Today the provision of care home places has been almost entirely outsourced to the private sector.
For many landlords this has become a lucrative business with fees up to £10,000 per week. Many are now owned by off shore tax avoidance companies with profits of £500m last year.
Care for these vulnerable children has become a market place in which profit drives down the quality of care provided.Will this government commit to the radical reform these vulnerable children need?
This article appeared in the Gloucestershire Echo on 16 May 2022