Serious incidents more common in for-profit children’s homes in England

Serious incidents involving the police and whistleblowing complaints are more common in private children’s homes run to make a profit than in homes run by charities and councils, 데이터 제안.

Analysis of Ofsted data by the Guardian and BBC signals that children’s homes operated by profit-making firms had a disproportionately higher number of police callouts compared with those of not-for-profit providers. There was also a disproportionately higher number of complaints from often concerned staff members.

The dataset, released after a parliamentary question, shows private businesses provided 69% of the bed spaces in children’s homes in England but accounted for 76% of the serious incidents last year and 78% of the complaints over the last three years. Not-for-profit providers such as councils and charities provided 31% of the bed spaces and accounted for 24% of the serious incidents and 22% of the complaints.

Anne Longfield, the former children’s commissioner for England, said the profit-driven care system was failing vulnerable children, with too many accommodated hundreds of miles from their homes and huge amounts of money leaking out of children’s services to private shareholders and owners.

“This data should sound alarm bells ringing. These private providers need to answer for why so many serious incidents have taken place in their homes and so many concerns have been raised," 그녀가 말했다. “The fact is that some these firms are getting involved in this market primarily because of the enormous profit that came be made, not to deliver the secure, local, therapeutic, responsive care the vulnerable children so desperately need.”

The dataset only includes serious incidents where there is active police involvement, including making arrests and taking statements. Complaints can be made to Ofsted by whistleblowers if they have concerns about abuse, poor care or safety in children’s homes.

The outcomes of the complaints are not specified in the data, so it is not known if they were appropriately made or upheld. Ofsted notes that a high level of notifications may indicate that a provider accommodates children with complex needs or that a provider is making notifications.

하나, Steve Crocker, the president of the Association of Directors of Children Services, said private firms were increasingly cherrypicking the least challenging children to look after. “Private providers are trying pick and choose which children they want to take, which means the more challenging children with more complex needs are far more difficult to place.”

The Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA) said large providers cared for children with the highest need and risk. “We expect these providers to have more incidents and notifications than the rest of the sector,” said Peter Sandiford, the ICHA chief executive. “We would be more concerned if they did not have higher rates as that would mean they were not reporting incidents.”

그만큼 10 providers with the highest number of serious incidents involving the police were all large, profit-making private groups, with more than half owned by private equity companies. They provided 19% of the places and accounted for 25% of all the incidents in England. These major providers collect more than £1bn a year from local authority children’s services.

Over the last three decades, private firms have largely taken over children’s residential care, as local authorities have been encouraged by successive governments to outsource services. 이상 80% of the children’s homes in England and Wales are now run by private companies.

Councils have found themselves paying more for places as the number of children, especially older children in need of residential care, has risen. The profit made on each child placed in a private children’s home jumped from £702 to £910 a week between 2016 과 2020.

Although Ofsted inspection ratings appear to suggest there is no significant difference between types of provision, there have been growing concerns about wider systemic failings that are not assessed during inspections of individual homes. Longfield, who now chairs the Commission on Young Lives, said children’s needs were often coming second to the business model of private providers.

“While Ofsted may be assessing lots of these homes as good or outstanding, children have to fit in with what’s available and that’s not in children’s best interest. Ultimately children have become commodities in this so-called market," 그녀가 말했다.

Emma Lewell-Buck, the backbench Labour MP and former social worker who helped to obtain the Ofsted dataset, 말했다: “These children are in the care of the state. The government’s inaction and silence is yet another indicator of how little they care about our most vulnerable children.”

Last month a government-commissioned independent review called for a children’s care system free of the profit motive. But ministers have so far refused to back the demand, insisting the government has “no issue with profit” in itself and instead wants “to improve oversight of the market”. This contrasts with Wales and Scotland where the devolved governments are committed to stopping companies from profiting from children’s care.

The Department for Education said it would be publishing a plan to bring about a fundamental shift in how children’s social care supports vulnerable children by the end of the year. “All children and young people deserve to grow up in a stable, loving home, and no private company should exploit those in need of placement,” a spokesperson said.

Sian looks through a gap in a broken fence. Beyond a patch of grass and a lone swing is the remote, 은밀한, for-profit children’s home where she lived for six months. “I can see my bedroom. It’s the one right at the end. I see the school building right below. I used to sit in that window all the time and watch the road,” she says as cars, trucks and vans hurtle past.

She was sent to the home, which is less than 15 metres from a busy main road, despite having a history of running into traffic. “Within a week of being there I had been on the road and been rugby-tackled by two members of staff, and I know emergency meetings were held about whether the placement was appropriate,” she recalls later in her small flat.

The company operating the home argued in those meetings that Sian (not her real name) should stay. But she managed to get out multiple times. She would lie down and wait to be run over. Drivers would swerve to avoid her. “[The home was] wildly under qualified [to look after me]. They’d never had a child in that kind of acute mental health crisis before. It was a really bizarre decision from them, but having said that I brought in money for them," 그녀는 말한다. “I was generating more than their staff would earn in a year.”

Her local authority paid the firm close to £100,000 during her six-month stay. Despite receiving such huge sums of public money to care for children, there was little in the way of mental health support or therapy. The home only provided a photocopied worksheet about difficult emotions every Sunday.

“Private for-profit companies are profiting from trauma,” says Sian. “They’re accepting highly traumatised children and not always thinking about the matching of the placements. It was a significant issue in my homes that children were poorly matched.”

Her time in that home has cast a long shadow over her life. Sian is making progress but most of the other children she got to know there are in a worse state than when they were taken into care. “All of them, except for one and myself, are now in institutions, whether that is prison or psychiatric hospitals. So they’ve all been failed, as far as I’m concerned.”

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