National Audit Office report shows the government is failing looked-after children
Local authorities and the Department for Education are failing the 68,110 children in foster and residential care in England, according to a report from the National Audit Office. The National Audit Office is the body which scrutinises public spending on behalf of the UK Parliament.
The “Children in Care” report revealed that the long term prospects of children in care are permanently damaged. Just 15 per cent of children in care obtain five GCSEs at grade C or above – compared to 58 per cent of the rest of the population.
The likelihood of ending up not in employment education or training (NEET) by the age of 19 is also more than doubled for young adults who have left the care system. Around 34 per cent of 19 year olds who were in care aged 16 end up as NEETs. This compares with 15 per cent of the general population of 19 year olds who end up doing nothing.
The Department for Education came in for criticism in the report for its failure to even bother to measure outcomes and the effectiveness of the delivery of child care services. The Department is supposed to hold Local Authorities to account for their performance but has no method of measuring performance or even any understanding of the different factors that contribute to the costs of care, the report said.
The Department has also failed completely to cut the number of times children are shifted around between foster homes – destroying their stability. At the end of last year, 34 per cent of children in care had more than one placement during the year. Despite a goal of improving stability for children, this is the same proportion as in 2009. Another 14 per cent of foster children and 34 per cent of those in residential care were placed more than 20 miles from home. Again the numbers have not improved since 2009.
Around 75 per cent of children in care are fostered and fostering is far cheaper than housing children in residential homes. It costs up to £33,000 annually to place a child in foster care – compared to up to £135,000 to house a child in a residential home. The total bill for local authorities was £2.5 billion last year – up 3 per cent on the year before.
The number of children being taken into care is at its highest level for 20 years. This follows a rapid increase in care order applications following high profile deaths such as Baby P and Daniel Pelka.