THE number of children’s social care placements costing £10,000 or more per week has risen by over 1,000 per cent in five years, a survey of councils by the Local Government Association reveals.

There were 120 such placements in 2018/19, rising to 1,510 in 2022/23, while the proportion of councils with at least one of these placements has increased from 23 per cent to 91 per cent over the same period.

The highest cost placement was £63,000 a week. For most councils the highest cost fell between £9,600 and £32,500 a week. Nearly every council (98 per cent) said a lack of choice in placements was driving the high prices.

Over nine in 10 (93 per cent) councils also highlighted children needing help with increasingly complex needs, including mental health needs or exhibiting challenging behaviours, as a factor. The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, says the findings demonstrate that the market for children’s social care placements is “broken”.

Councils are working hard to expand placement capacity, including developing their own children’s homes and running foster carer recruitment campaigns. However in light of significant challenges, they are calling for urgent investment in provision that can best meet children’s needs.

The LGA has set out three key areas for government action:

  • Roll out planned Department for Education programmes on the recruitment and retention of foster carers to all councils
  • Expansion of children’s homes through capital investment, recruitment and professional development of children’s homes workers and working with the voluntary and community sector
  • Work with DHSC and NHS England on both inpatient mental health facilities (the number of inpatient mental health beds for teenagers fell by 20 per cent between 2017 and 2022) and joint delivery of placements for children with complex mental health needs

It is also vital that councils are able to invest in earlier support for children and families to reduce the number of children who need to be in the care of their council, and that councils are provided with longer term funding settlements to enable them to plan ahead.

The LGA is calling for urgent funding for children’s social care in the upcoming provisional Local Government Finance Settlement. It warned the lack of investment in the Autumn Statement risked councils’ ability to provide the critical care and support that children rely on every day.

Cllr Louise Gittins, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “With more children needing help with increasingly complex and challenging needs, what is most important is ensuring they get the best care and support. It is concerning that in many cases, a lack of choice means provision is not fully meeting children’s needs.

“The astronomical costs of care placements mean there is less money available for councils to spend on earlier support for children and families. These findings are indicative of a broken market for children’s social care placements, but it doesn’t have to remain this way. With cross-government support, it is possible to make sure we have the right homes for all of the children in our care.”

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care found that investment of £2.6 billion over four years was needed to reform the children’s social care system and rebalance spending towards earlier help. To date, the Government has committed £200 million over two years. Despite a 27 per cent real-terms reduction in core spending power for councils since 2010/11, children’s social care budgets increased by £1.5 billion in the last year alone.

* Source: Local Government Association