The Sunday Times of 29 December 2019 carried an extremely thought-provoking article on the subject of the costs of keeping children in care. The article explained how in some cases the cost to the state is £200,000 a year – over four times the cost of sending a child to the elite Eton college. (Call to end ‘scandal’ of child in care costing four times annual fee for Eton by Rosamund Urwin and Caroline Wheeler)
At first sight this comparison, especially coming from the Times, causes the reader to expect the article to wander down the path of a condemnation of the wasted money being thrown at lower-class oiks whilst the little darlings of the wealthy can be educated properly at a quarter of the price, but surprisingly, that is not the target, although we are sure it may cross the mind of one or two of the Times’s readers.
In fact, the article is quite sensible and accepts that some children will end up in care, mostly through no fault of their own. What is stressed is that of the 15 or so (an average arrived by the children’s commissioner for England) children costing around £4,000 per week, many could have been saved by means of meaningful intervention by social services much earlier in their lives.
The price of failing to help children when they’re young
Early intervention can, it seems, help around 4,000 children a year for a similar cost to that of keeping the let-down ‘15’ in care later on.
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, was quoted as saying: “The scandal here is not just the cost of these placements, but what children are getting for this money.
“Children should expect the best therapeutic care and nurturing support, but what I see often falls far, far short: children living in austere and overly secure institutions; environments that are neither homely nor supportive; children often deprived of the chance to go to a normal school.”
While welfare budgets really do need to be hugely increased across the board to provide better quality and earlier assistance, another major problem is the privatisation of much of the present provision. Ms Longfield highlighted this scandal of private firms making obscene profits through providing poor residential care for vulnerable children at the highest possible prices.
Scandalous conditions in privatised children’s care system
The commissioner revealed that she had witnessed “first-hand the torment that conditions in homes were causing children”. She pointed out that one young woman who had grown up in care had told her that she had “felt like a parcel being passed around, but never wanted”.
Other vulnerable children have been thrown out of residential care homes at short notice, sometimes by companies hoping to force local authorities to pay more.
These are the children whom councils are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to accommodate, even while the overall budget has been squeezed hard, with last year’s £8.6bn spend down from a peak of £9.7bn in 2009-10 – a ten percent cut over the decade of austerity that has followed the bailing out by the British Labour government of the monopoly capitalist banks.
Almost half of the entire children’s services budget in England is now spent on the 73,000 children in the care system, with the other half covering the country’s remaining 11.7 million children.
What is more, it has recently been publicised that thousands of these vulnerable children are living in unregulated accommodation – which means that the housing, and presumably the staff, have had no inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
Between 2016-17 and 2018-19 the number of times children under the age of 18 years were put into unchecked housing rose by 22 percent, to 5,874 incidents.
No meaningful safeguards for Britain’s most vulnerable kids
This raises health and safeguarding issues on many levels, and has prompted Ann Coffey, the former MP who chaired the all-party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children, to call on the government to make it unlawful for local authorities to place children in these unsafe and unmonitored settings.
Thousands of children in care, it has been revealed, are being placed in ‘homes’ that are illegal or unregulated due to a lack of secure places for housing vulnerable children in the UK. The resultant surge in unsafe placements includes those that are unregulated (suitable only for over 16s ready for independent living) or not registered with the CQC or the care inspectorate.
This practice is illegal, but councils get around the law by dishonestly relabelling care as ‘support’. Unregistered provision that claims to offer any form of care as opposed to just support is technically illegal, but as there is no legal definition within the laws pertaining to caring for children of exactly what ‘care’ means, a massive loophole exists that councils across the country are fully exploiting.
MPs, the police, charities and the children’s commissioner have all warned that children accommodated in these homes are at risk of exploitation from sexual predators and drug gangs. Councils have placed children in houses of unbelievable squalor and even on boats or in caravans.
Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for social care, in discussing the 150 unregistered homes that they have investigated within the last 12 months, said: “The strategic issue at the heart of this very challenging problem is with the lack of supply. Some people with good intentions, some with bad intentions are opening provisions to meet that need.”
Many vulnerable teenagers who have been placed in unregistered and/or unregulated accommodation have found themselves at risk of being groomed for sexual and criminal exploitation. Some are housed with vulnerable adults and will be exposed to or groomed with drugs and alcohol. They may also go missing or be subject to physical violence and verbal abuse.
In the last analysis, only a properly organised socialist society based upon the needs of the working classes, and recognising and caring compassionately for those whose age, health or other circumstances make them vulnerable, will solve these problems fully. But that should not stop us from demanding improvements now.
The profit motive is incompatible with meaningful care
In the present climate of capitalist exploitation and crisis-driven austerity, workers must demand that the private sector be completely removed from all health, education and welfare institutions.
We must ensure that political pressure is brought to bear to provide these vulnerable, disadvantaged working-class children with adequately-funded and caring homes, in safe and properly supported and monitored environments.
Staff who care for society’s disadvantaged children must be highly-motivated caring professionals, well trained and supported – not overworked or just left to cope as best they can.
We all recognise that we wish to provide the best for our children. Working-class children who do not have the precious benefit and protective environment that comes from living with caring and supportive parents deserve every opportunity to receive the emotional, financial and educational support they need to achieve their potential, to grow and develop into emotionally stable adults, forge constructive relationships and become useful members of society.
Britain in 2020, run by and in the interests of City vulture-capitalists, is characterised by mass unemployment, homelessness and poverty. Millions of adults are unable to engage in productive work and, if not thrown onto the miserable scrapheap of unemployment, are engaged in meaningless labour, often either underemployed or overworked, and usually insecure.
The system over which the vultures reign is more interested in policing and imprisoning the working class than in solving their multiplying social problems (generated by the very capitalist system that keeps the billionaires rich) or empowering them.