A couple of weeks ago I set out the overarching question that the independent review of children’s social care will focus on – how we can ensure that children grow up in loving, safe and stable families, and where that is not possible that care provides those same foundations.
For those children who need to enter care, making sure they have somewhere to live that meets their needs is crucial. This is the place a child will spend most of their time and can provide the stability that enables them to forge lifelong relationships.
Yet, since my appointment as chair of the independent review of children’s social care, I’ve been inundated with calls from care-experienced children and young people, Directors of Children’s Services, providers and others telling me that currently the ‘placements market’ (an unfortunate term in itself) just isn’t working and that a lack of suitable homes for children is leading to unnecessary out of area placements, placement breakdown and inappropriate use of unregulated provision.
This is why one of my first actions as chair of the review, was to write to the Competition and Markets Authority to ask that they open a study into the children’s social care ‘market’. I am in good company in this regard, with the former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee also suggesting the CMA should look into this issue.
It is therefore extremely welcome that the CMA have today launched a market study looking at the provision of accommodation and associated care and support for children in care in England, Scotland and Wales. The timing of this work provides an opportunity for our two reviews to work together to achieve better informed recommendations, to improve the quality of homes children can live in.
The CMA have a unique remit and skill set to look into this issue and their work will explore specific concerns in relation to children’s homes, unregulated accommodation and fostering provision. The independent review of children’s social care will, by contrast, take a broader look across children’s social care, using the evidence gathered by the CMA and others to make recommendations that span the whole system.
There will be some areas where our areas of focus overlap and so I have agreed with the CMA that their study and our review will work closely together, within the bounds of the CMA’s legal powers and obligations and respecting the independence of both pieces of work. In practice this will mean sharing findings so that we benefit from the same evidence, but also more practically ensuring that requests for information are not duplicated unnecessarily.
I am looking forward to working with the CMA to strengthen the review’s evidence and make the most of the opportunity we have to solve one of the most persistent barriers to making sure care provides children with loving, stable and safe foundations.