Looked After Children and Care Leaver Placements
To provide an update on placement commissioning activity for Looked After Children and Care Leavers.
The Committee received a report which provided an update on placement commissioning activity for Looked After Children and Care Leavers. It was highlighted that there had been recent media attention on the topic, particularly the cost of specialist placements.
Gail Tolley (Strategic Director Children and Young People, Brent Council) advised the Committee that the paper aimed to be informative, for members to see and understand the pressures on the placements budget. This was not a Brent specific issue but a London and national issue, and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had recently published a report regarding the pressures. All local authorities had been contacted about their costs for placements and the Association for Directors of Children’s Services had put in a response on behalf of local authorities. The average financial cost of a placement for a child in residential care was detailed in paragraph 3.13 of the report. Onder Beter (Head of LAC and Permanency, Brent Council) added that the issue was particularly significant for local authorities with a LAC population made up of mainly teenagers. Brent Council had seen an increase of 18.6% in the number of children and young people needing placements in the past year, and a 78% increase in the number of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASCs). The increase in numbers had, in turn, increased demand on the Brent Family Front Door (BFFD). Table 5 included further details on the number of looked after children Brent Council were supporting in various residential settings.
The report detailed the difficulties and challenges around placement sufficiency and the importance of finding a suitable placement. Officers highlighted that, despite the challenges highlighted in the report, colleagues had put in a lot of hard work to identify suitable placements, including staying late in the evenings.
Brent had seen a decrease in the number of foster carers over the past few years due to the cohort being of a more mature age. This recruitment issue was experienced despite a number of recruitment strategies trialled by the Council. The previous year there had been a net loss of 7 foster carers, despite 5 new fostering households being recruited. Neighbouring authorities were experiencing similar issues with similar numbers. This would mean the Council would be relying more on independent foster carers and there was an increased risk of more children going into residential placements, which would increase financial pressures.
In considering the report, the Committee raised the following points:
The Committee acknowledged the importance of the report in highlighting the cost implications to the placement budget alongside the complexity of cases. Committee members drew out some positives they felt the report demonstrated, such as that standards for living arrangements for young people in care were being looked into through future Ofsted regulations, although they felt quality provision would require funding.
In relation to plans for recruiting foster carers, the Committee were advised that this was being worked on with the West London Fostering Collaboration Project. The Committee were informed there were financial incentives and allowances for foster caring, but Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) were choosing to pay more money for foster carers which Brent Council was not able to compete with. It was hoped that Brent could level up allowances to bring them into a competitive range with IFAs. To further increase recruitment efforts, a redesign of the fostering service was considered with more impetus on digital marketing strategies. Brent was looking at the existing cohort of foster carers to see how they could be upskilled, and using creative ideas to increase the number of beds in placements. Onder Beter highlighted that more lobbying was needed to position foster care as the best care arrangement for looked after children, and the CMA report had issued recommendations around how fostering should be supported and boosted, including standards requirements for IFAs.
Those present acknowledged that foster carers were older in age and there were grandparents caring for children which could be challenging in terms of their complex behaviours. They were advised that grandparents willing to care for a grandchild were well supported in Brent by the kinship care arrangements, which received the same level of support provided as mainstream Brent foster carers. In relation to the age of foster carers, the Committee also acknowledged that the current cost of living was an inhibiting factor for younger people.
The Committee asked what the impact of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care would be in terms of taking up recommendations. Gail Tolley advised that it had been made clear early on to members of the independent review that the review would provide ideas, solutions, and a strong steer to government on the issues. The report was due to be published in June 2022, and it was agreed that it should be presented to the Corporate Parenting Committee for a discussion, looking closely at any government response to the review at the end of this year. There was concern that the review may not go far enough in its steer to central government.
In relation to the pilot for young people needing CAMHS, the Committee asked how that would benefit young people, and where the funding came from to support that pilot. Nigel Chapman (Operational Director Integration and Improved Outcomes, Brent Council) highlighted that, regionally and across London, there was work being done to jointly commission and secure welfare homes in Barking and Dagenham. Working with the NWL CCG and the West London Alliance (WLA), the pilot would provide a home crisis service for children and young people who, following admission to A&E due to mental health concerns, were not able to safely return home and needed a short period of intensive support in a tier 4 bed. As this was being done in partnership across 8 local authorities the WLA and CCG had agreed to put funding towards it. Brent would act as the lead authority for this work in West London.
To close the discussion, Gail Tolley reminded that Children’s Services in Brent was the 6th lowest funded Children’s Services in London. The Committee agreed that this report was a starting point to drive the issue forward politically, and hoped that the new administration would pick up these issues.
i) To note the report.