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CMA review into children’s social care: BASW England statement

BASW England welcomes the acknowledgement of market failure in children’s welfare provision

BASW England responds to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) review into the children’s social care market, published on the 10 of March 2022. 

BASW contributed to this review. The report identified a dysfunctional and fragmented commissioning system in which local authorities are not able to leverage their role or to plan properly for the future. It found that: 

  1. There is a shortage of foster carers and appropriate children’s homes. 
  2. Children are being placed too far from their homes, sometimes in inappropriate and unsuitable places. 
  3. Excessive profits are being made by the biggest providers
  4. Significant debts are held by providers. If providers were to collapse overnight, children could lose their homes and local authorities would be left to pick up the pieces.
  5. High prices are being paid by local authorities, with these costs picked up by taxpayers.

Child-centred and the Duty of Care

Children, their lives, and their relationships - not the market or its functioning - are BASW’s concern. The building and strengthening of healthy relationships for children with carers, families and communities is the core collective task. The market has no duty of care to children. 

The CMA report, whilst acknowledging the significant vulnerabilities in respect of investment flight of providers and the unacceptable risks this poses to children, does not challenge the current model. The current model places the government in the role of enabling reliable profits for providers to ensure private equity capture. 

The model is flawed. Wales and Scotland are reversing privatisation - why not England? 

We welcome the attention to the vital importance of supporting local authorities to fulfil their duties to children and their families and the proposal to bring fostering-in house. But why not also focus on ways of doing that for residential services and homes? 

We should be considering a direct model of public provision, where government holds the burden of risk and where lines of responsibility and accountability are transparent. In a direct model of public provision, regional and collective local authority commissioning can focus on strategic arrangements. 

The CMA report serves only to reinforce the public policy principle and the urgency of the need to identify the most effective public sector model.  The What Works Centre is well placed to do this work. The decision to undertake a study on sufficiency strategies was wrong, the premise assumes private capture of child welfare provision. Research and reviews must focus on models of public provision of residential care that secure child welfare outcomes as well as service cost-effectiveness.

BASW England will robustly challenge all government attempts to reduce the extent of Local Authority duty of care to older children living away from home. Regulations provide the framework for safe care and hold us all to account.