12% more children in council care at cost of £3.4 billion
Published by Brian Church for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Finance
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The number of children in the care of councils in England rose by 12%, or 7,210, over a four-year period ending on 31 March 2013, according to a report by the Audit Commission.
In total, 68,110 children were in care on this date, or 0.6% of all children in England under the age of 18, with 42,228 as a result of abuse or neglect. Total cost was £3.4 billion, said the commission, whose role is to protect the public purse.
Despite the 12% rise, councils’ costs increased by only 4% nationally, though costs were 15% up in the northeast and 7% down in London.
The Audit Commission’s briefing, 'Councils’ Expenditure on Looked After Children: Using Data from the Value for Money Profiles (VFM) Tool', takes a closer look at councils’ expenditure on foster care, which totalled £1.5bn in 2012-13.
The commission noted that, in 2012-13, 21 councils spent less than £40,000 per child and 32 councils spent more than £60,000 per child. It said "councils with higher than average expenditure should explore the reasons for this and consider whether there is scope to reduce their spending".
Audit Commission Chairman Jeremy Newman said: "It is beyond question that councils must place children in settings that meet their individual needs and that provide cost effective, high quality care...We encourage all councils to review their spending and in particular urge higher spending councils to understand the reasons for this and to consider whether they can secure more cost-effective placements without compromising on the quality of care."
When the commission conducted its analysis, inconsistencies in the way councils report similar data, which reduce the usefulness of the data, were identified. Although the standard of the data was better in 2012-13 than in previous years, there is still substantial scope for improvements, it said.
The commission’s analysis showed that a range of factors affect how much councils spend, including: how easy it is to recruit local foster carers; the availability of suitable local placements when they are needed; the balance between the council’s use of its own and agency foster care services; and the nature of the foster care market operating in the local area, with councils purchasing a larger volume of foster care and being able to choose from a wider range of suppliers tending to get a better price.