The child care home system is as great a national scandal as the banking crisis
Was anyone else astonished to read, in the wake of remarks on the inadequacies of the British care system by Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, that care companies are charging the government £200,000 a year on average for each child in the system?
Two hundred thousand pounds a year! That is an annual sum which could not only pay for a child to board for a year at Eton, but would also leave £170,000 to spare for three full-time workers on handsome salaries to dedicate themselves solely to the wellbeing of that individual child. Of course, not every “looked after” child would be a suitable candidate for boarding school, but – for that price – each one should be receiving personal care and education well in excess of the best that is available to the privileged children of moneyed parents.
Now, I have no objection whatsoever to large sums of money being spent on children in care, who have already endured neglect or abuse in their short and luckless lives: indeed, I can think of few places where I would rather put my tax. But what I do object to is adding to the staggering profits of private firms who are raking in the cash from the British taxpayer while cutting corners and delivering generally appalling outcomes on every level, from educational to social, for British children in care.
It has emerged that care companies have been sending 45 per cent of “looked after” children to homes far away from their families and boroughs, to cheaper areas with a high concentration of sex offenders and frequently lax supervision. At the same time, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, has found growing evidence that children in care are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, with such children frequently feeling isolated, unprotected and abandoned. And for this the taxpayer pays £200,000 a year per child? Furthermore, society then continues to pay a steep price for the dismal failure of care, as “looked-after” children – who have, in many cases, been “looked after” exceptionally badly by the authorities – often fail to realise their potential, and are disproportionately represented among the prison and homeless population.
There has been a rise in financial firms buying up companies that provide social services, presumably because such companies generate considerable profits. But these firms do not appear, in a great many cases, to be adequately profiting or securing the wellbeing of the vulnerable children who pass through their hands. Children should not be treated as mere cash cows for shareholders, yet the detailed performance of these companies has not been held adequately to account. This is a shameful story worthy of Dickens, unfolding in the modern age.
The British media and public are currently up in arms over Barclays' manipulation of the bank borrowing rate. But our care system is as great a national scandal, and the private firms and individuals behind the worst examples should be clearly identified: we need to turn up the heat on this, and quickly. Mr Loughton is absolutely right to try to reform a rotten system, but I hope he thinks radically about who operates care systems and what they are expected to do. I wish him luck: there is a long way to go.
5 July 2012