Municipalities have to find homes for children at the ‘last minute’

According to Ofsted, local authorities are struggling with a last-minute effort to find homes for children entering shelters due to rising demand for places and a lack of suitable accommodation.

In a report published today, Ofsted finds that the lack of sufficient suitable accommodation and the need to find placements quickly means that local authorities often struggle to plan and meet their legal obligation to provide adequate accommodation to children in need of care. The difficulty of forecasting demand and the need for urgent placements leaves local authorities with little choice but to respond to individual cases as they arise.

Some local authorities told Ofsted that a lack of time and resources for planning ahead results in a last-minute reaction when a child enters the shelter. Even if local authorities can plan, there is often a lack of available accommodation and care for children with more complex needs.

Local authorities also noted tension in their relationships with some private providers and their “power” over the child social care market. Some suggested that providers can single out certain children, making it difficult for them to follow their plan and meet their adequacy obligation. Conversely, other local authorities emphasized how positive relationships with providers mean they are better able to find homes for children with more complex needs and to negotiate the cost of placements.

Ofsted’s report is based on interviews and focus groups with social workers, regional principals and other local authority staff.

The research also found:

  • Local authorities’ knowledge of providers and agencies is often in the hands of individuals, which can be lost in personnel changes
  • some local authorities are concerned about the aging of their area’s foster carers and their ability to plan long-term placements

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for regulation and social care:

Today’s report exposes some of the challenges local authorities face when it comes to finding the care children need. More children are entering shelters, many with serious physical and mental health needs. The need to find places for these children is quickly outpacing the long-term planning of local authorities.

It is clear that these findings are set against the problems facing children’s social care at the national level, and local authorities cannot solve the problem of adequacy alone. There is a lack of suitable homes in the right places, especially for children with the most complex needs – this needs to be addressed.

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