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Stable care system can cut public spending

Fewer transitions and more stability for children in the care system could save children’s services more than £32,000 per child per year as well as ensuring better emotional stability for the child, a Barnardo’s report has found.

hen the care system is used effectively… it can be a powerful tool for improving the lives of vulnerable children and young people’.The report, carried out by independent think-tank Demos for the charity, examines what a reconfigured care system without delays, instability and abrupt transitions would look like. It concludes that the emotional and financial savings that could be made through a smoother, more proactive care system are considerable.

The most positive experiences of care and the best outcomes for young people, it adds, are associated with early intervention and minimum delay, stability during care and supported transitions to independence.

In practice, there are some children for whom prevention from entering the care system or permanency such as adoption are not realistic outcomes. But rather than ‘oscillate between prevention and permanency’, public money should be used to support families when they need it rather than wait for crisis point; achieve early permanency for children, or provide stability for young people where permanency is not desirable or feasible.

Nushra Mansuri, BASW’s joint England manager, welcomed the report but insisted its conclusions “are not rocket science”. She said it helped, however, to be able to put a price on how expert support for young people can actually yield financial savings. “Given the harsh economical times, it is good that they have costed it and put it in that context. “It’s good that they have taken a different approach and added the cost to arguments that are as old as the hills.

“It is much more satisfying to help people through prevention – it is so frustrating coming into work and wanting to help and with the system you end up banging your head against a brick wall,” she said.

Barnardo’s makes a number of recommendations and urges the Department for Education to strengthen care planning guidance to ensure there are fewer failed family reunifications.

The charity also says the care system needs to be de-stigmatised and viewed as a positive form of family support. ‘In media debate and policy discussions the care system is frequently described as failing. This negative view of care in England and Wales is closely related to how it is evaluated and the way that data on young people’s outcomes is misinterpreted – both of which tell a misleading story about its impact,’ the report states.

The report makes several recommendations around the issue of mental health. It states that as many of the children entering the care system are aged over ten-years-old, a child’s pre-care experience is one of the most important influences on their care journey.

‘Evidence suggests that many of the children and young people who eventually become looked after already have a high level of mental and physical health problems at their point of entry to care,’ the report adds.

It warns that placement instability can exacerbate young people’s mental health problems and increase their vulnerability. As a result they can need high quality emotional and professional support from the start of their care experience. It recommends that the Department for Education should make mental health assessments of children entering care mandatory, using a standardised multi-disciplinary measure.

The report adds that foster trainers should be trained in mental health and respite support and placement support workers should be available to foster carers on request.

Weblink to Barnardo’s report