Council paying £42,000 per week for the care of one child

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A councillor has slammed the “huge profits” being made by private childcare firms and says the government is treating children’s services like A&E.

Wirral Council is paying £42,000 per week to take care of one child under its care, a councillor has claimed.

Vice chair of the local authority’s childrens committee Cllr Chris Carubia said the figure was the highest he is aware of as he calls on the government to regulate the high cost of children’s services and “prevent private companies setting exorbitant fees for childcare placements.”

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He said private companies are “benefiting from huge profits made off the backs of our most vulnerable children in care” and argues councils need “significant additional funding so it can be wisely invested in stabilising the current system to ensure strong foundations on which to build future reform.”

Wirral Council havespent nearly £28m on the children in its care in 2023 which according to Cllr Carubia equates to an average of £5,887 a week for a placement in a children’s home. He said he was aware of several cases where costs were between £30,000 and £35,000 due to the child having more complex needs.

Providing children’s care services is a service Wirral Council legally has to provide unlike some services such as leisure centres which are not statutory services. However with many children placed in private care homes, costs can significantly increase with providers charging substantially more for children with special needs.

According to a council report published before a children’s and education committee in June, increases of children in care with post-Covid demand and rising costs are putting pressure on childrens’ services.

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The rising costs are despite a decrease in the number of children the council cares for. In March 2023, 766 children were in care, a decrease from 821 in March 2021.

At a meeting on October 9, Cllr Carubia has put forward a motion calling for the council to write to the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan MP to ask that the government regulate the sector and private children’s homes.

Speaking to the LDRS, Cllr Carubia said other councils “are all suffering from the same issues but the main thing is the costs are spiralling. There is no legislation to limit or put a cost on what you can charge for a placement.”

Criticising the government, he said: “They can put a tax on petrol and they can put limits on certain things. Why haven’t they don’t that with children’s care?”

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He added: “The government is treating children’s services like A&E. I think that is what they are doing. They put in something like £8m but £4 out of every £5 is spent on emergency care.

“Instead of treating children at a young age and catching them very young, they have been on waiting lists for two years. We are only treating them when they are desperate. It’s done as emergency care instead of doing it at an early stage.”

In February 2023, the UK Government announced a new children’s social care implementation strategy along with £200m funding over two years. The strategy was announced after three different independent reviews found “the current care system is often fragmented, siloed, and struggling to meet the needs of children and families across England.”

The changes saw an increase in foster parent allowances as well as a recruitment and retention programme. Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho at the time said: “Our wide-ranging reforms will put strong relationships at the heart of the care system.

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“From supporting our brilliant foster carers, kinship carers and social workers to getting early help to families and improving children’s homes, we want every child to get the support and protection they need.”

Cllr Carubia argues the funding fell short of £1.6m required each year to maintain current service levels saying the situation had gotten “drastic”.

A recent budget report stated Wirral Council likely faces bankruptcy in three years, it said: “There is a growing disparity between the resources available to local government and the demand pressures that the sector faces.

“The growing demand for social care for both Adults and Children’s services cannot be sustained over the MTFP (medium term financial plan) period without either additional funding or the long awaited review of local authority funding.”

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However Cllr Carubia said Wirral was ahead of the curve in some aspects, particularly with its partnership with Juno CIC to set up care homes on the Wirral.

Juno is a not-for-profit meaning costs go back into the care of the trial and the “groundbreaking” trial is considered to be the first in the country. Four children’s homes will be set up on the Wirral through the pilot.

Cllr Carubia also said the local authority has managed to cut down on costs by avoiding placing children in care in far off places like Glasgow and London and improving their wellbeing as they are closer to home. He said looked after children under Wirral Council are now all being cared for in the North West.

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