Written evidence submitted by the Children's Services Development Group

Children's Services Development Group (CSDG):

Written evidence for the Education Committee's inquiry into Children's Homes, April 2021


Executive summary


  1. The Children's Services Development Group (CSDG) welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Education Committee's inquiry into Children's Homes.


  1. CSDG is a coalition of leading independent providers of residential care, fostering and special schools for children and young people with complex needs, collectively working with all of England's local authorities. CSDG champions child-centred, outcomes-focused care for looked after children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), that ensures their stable and successful transition into adulthood.


  1. We welcome that the Education Committee has included a focus in its inquiry on improving outcomes and transitional support for young people living in children’s homes, alongside important issues such as sufficiency and support for looked after young people with SEND.


  1. CSDG has long advocated for an outcomes focused approach to commissioning children’s homes placements, which puts each child’s individual needs at the heart of the process to ensure they are given the best placement for their needs first time. This reduces placement churn and improves stability, which in itself increases the likelihood of a positive transition into adulthood.


  1. However, this alone is not sufficient to ensure positive longer-term outcomes for those leaving care. We believe there are a range of improvements that can be made within the sector to deliver better, joined-up transitions services to reduce the concerning number of care experienced young people who experience negative outcomes.


Meeting demand and sufficiency planning


  1. The children's services sector provides an essential lifeline to the most vulnerable children and young people in our society. However, over the last decade, local authorities have been under significant financial pressure. Figures from the Local Government Association published in September 2020 showed local authorities have had a £15 billion reduction in central government funding over the last decade, with councils already facing a further funding gap of £6.5 billion by 2024/25 before the pandemic began.[1]


  1. Alongside this, the demand for children's services has increased and the number of looked after children in England has risen steadily in the past decade, from 64,400 as at 31 March 2010[2], to 80,080 in March 2020[3], an increase of almost 25%.


  1. During this time, local authority children’s home capacity numbers have reduced, while the independent sector has increased its capacity in order to support this shortfall in volume . CSDG members and the independent sector as a whole clearly play a fundamental role in meeting increased demand and ensuring children's social care sufficiency by providing a large number of quality children’s home places.


  1. Many of the young people cared for by the independent sector have extremely complex needs requiring very specialist and specific care which many local authorities are often unable to provide themselves. This includes those with special educational needs (SEND) and CSDG members are very focused on providing therapeutic and other specialist support to the young people in their care where it is needed, including linking this closely to their education , often within their own portfolios of special needs schools.


  1. Additionally, the independent sector is typically asked to look after a higher proportion of older children in care, many of whom often have more complex care needs requiring specialist support. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of young people aged 16 and older in care grew steadily from 21%[4] to 24%.[5] The independent sector's provision is therefore critical in helping local authorities support these vulnerable young people and meet the ever-increasing demand for services.


  1. For local authorities to prepare for, and meet, expected increases in demand for services, it is essential they undertake detailed and robust sufficiency planning in collaboration with all sector providers. Sufficiency planning will help ensure there is clarity and understanding of the capacity available to meet increases in demand and where new homes and the size of those new homes will be needed to fill gaps. Alongside this, should be a focus on increasing the availability of prevention and early intervention provision, such as 'edge of care support' to prevent more children from needing to enter the care system in the first place.


  1. There are notable regional disparities in the sufficiency of places in children's homes, meaning that some children and young people are placed outside of their home area. In line with other professionals CSDG believes, where possible, children and young people should be cared for close to their homes; many out of area placements are 'case' necessary. For example, the complexity of the needs of many of the young people our members support cannot always be met in provision located near to their homes, and it is not viable to provide such provision in every single local authority area. Additionally, for some young people, it is beneficial to be away from their home area where they may have had traumatic experiences or have been negatively influenced by their peers.


  1. It should also be noted that the choice of placement location rests entirely with the local authority in their role as corporate parent and not the service provider they select. Should local authorities need more local capacity then full sufficiency planning will identify this and local arrangements made to meet anticipated demand. The independent sector has always been a willing partner in this respect and is keen to work with local authorities to ensure sufficiency is maintained.






  1. Considerable investment is consistently made by both local authorities and independent providers to ensure the best possible care and support is provided to those living in children’s homes, and positive outcomes are achieved for each individual vulnerable child and young person. However, local authority funding constraints have led to placement decisions typically based on short-term cost considerations rather than the individual needs of the child. Such decisions can be driven by an ‘in-house first’ mindset, with councils regularly reluctant to fund places in independent settings based on a misconception of cost.


  1. There is a prevailing and inaccurate belief amongst local authorities and public sector commentators that in-house services are cheaper than independent sector provision. This ignores the fact that the independent sector provides specialist settings for young people with the most complex needs who require highly specialist care and support. Local authorities are often unable to provide this type of specialist support directly as investment and operating costs of these facilities are high, making accurate like for like cost comparisons difficult and often misleading.


  1. CSDG believes the combined role local authorities’ as both commissioner and provider creates an uneven playing field in many areas that, on balance, are always likely to favour public sector placements. When decisions are based on short-term cost considerations rather than the individual needs of a child or young person any saving on immediate costs serves only to store up costs in the longer-term and to the detriment of a young person’s longer-term outcomes.


  1. A thorough assessment of a young person’s needs is essential before making a placement decision, otherwise these vulnerable children will not access the right care first time. CSDG members do not accept referrals for young people who they do not believe they can appropriately support, as the wrong placement inevitably leads to placement breakdowns and churn, which are hugely damaging to the young person concerned and only serve to increase spending on alternative placements and support.


  1. CSDG has consistently advocated for the implementation of a needs, rather than costs, based commissioning framework for all local authorities, through the development of a ‘National Outcomes Framework’. This would benchmark all providers – local authority and independent – on value, quality, cost, and outcomes, to support effective outcomes-based commissioning that puts the child’s needs at the heart of all decision-making, while ensuring good value for the public sector in the longer-term. This would also allow commissioners to make strategic use of data to ensure better placements for children with complex needs.


  1. An example of an outcomes focused commissioning model has already been successfully tried and tested by a number of local authorities as part of iMPOWER’s Valuing Care programme. This model has focused on needs-based commissioning and has not only led to better outcomes for children and young people, but has also achieved cost savings for local authorities.




Impact of Covid-19


  1. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, CSDG members' frontline staff have unfailingly gone above and beyond, ensuring the children in their care continue to receive high-quality support during this challenging period.


  1. Staff have been innovative in providing a wide variety of learning resources to support individual children across all services to ensure their education may continue, even if they are unable to attend school. Many made personal sacrifices, including moving out of their family homes into nearby accommodation to protect the vulnerable children they work with from the virus.


  1. Our member's primary concern throughout the pandemic has been preparing to meet an increase in demand for children’s services placements. This was particularly the case at the end of the first national lockdown as children returned to school and face-to-face social worker visits resumed, and a spike in the number of referrals to children's services was anticipated.


  1. The independent sector has continued to play a significant role in meeting service demand and CSDG's members have taken proactive steps to prepare for the expected and emerging increase in need. For example, where possible, members have continued plans to register new homes, despite the challenges posed by lockdown.


  1. CSDG's members have, however, experienced issues with transitions planning for young people due to leave their current placement, which has created delays in them moving into adult services or independent living. We welcomed the government's guidance to maintain placements for young people due to leave care where required during the pandemic. However, this approach also creates placement blockages, limiting access to care placements and specialist support for younger children.


  1. CSDG's members are always focused on doing what is in the best interests of each young person. During this challenging time, for some this may mean extending placements to delay their leaving care (although this must be accompanied by the right funding to support the placement appropriately) while other options may be more appropriate for other young people due to leave care.


  1. Regardless, it is vital transitions out of care are not rushed and that young people are not suddenly left to fend for themselves or placed in inappropriate accommodation once the pandemic eases and guidance shifts to the former approach to transitions.


Outcomes for looked after children


  1. In recent years the DfE has, quite rightly, elevated transitions support to the forefront of its agenda, with consecutive ministers announcing policy measures to improve the support available to care leavers and young people with SEND when they reach age 18. Yet, despite this increased political focus, these young people are still struggling to achieve positive longer-term outcomes post-18.


  1. CSDG's report, Destination Unknown: Improving transitions for care leavers and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, published February 2020, found there is a shocking cliff-edge in support for vulnerable young people when they reach adulthood. Even with high-quality care and support before they turn 18, too many young people fall through the cracks because the right services are not in place to support them at this critical juncture.


Education outcomes

  1. Our report found 53% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 are not in education, employment, or training (NEET)[6]. Removing placement churn through effective commissioning is key to ensuring looked after children have stability, are able to engage consistently with their education and can secure employment later in life. One interviewee for our report gave an example of a care leaver who was struggling to find a job because he had moved schools so frequently while in care, with one employer rejecting him because they saw this as too “disruptive” because he had move around so much previously.


  1. We also found that only 6% of care leavers aged 19-21 were in higher education in 2018/19[7], compared to 34% of 18-year olds in the UK in 2019 who gained a place at university.[8] We recommend the Department for Education works with universities to provide greater assistance to care leavers in gaining access to, and remaining in, higher education. This should include reserving places for applicants, specific outreach and application support, providing access to free non-term-time accommodation and peer mentor programmes to provide wrap-around support.


Criminalisation of looked after children and young people

  1. Care leavers are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system with children in contact with the care system have been found to be more likely to offend and begin offending earlier than their peers.[9] For children in local authority care, placement type and instability link to higher offending rates, with the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care homes partly to blame. Children in care are 13 times more likely to be criminalised than other young people[10] and our research found care leavers represent around 24% of the prison population with 3% of care leavers aged 19-21 in custody.[11]


  1. To address this, alongside improved commissioning to increase placement stability, we recommend the Department for Education and Ministry of Justice develop mandatory guidance and protocols, in conjunction with local authorities, providers, police, schools and social workers, to promote more efficient and joined-up multi-agency working to prevent the excessive criminalisation of looked after children, and longer-term contact with the criminal justice system.


Wider support for positive life outcomes

  1. Central government has an important role to play in helping care leavers transition from care and navigate the complex system of support available to them. For example, when a young person leaves care aged 18, they have to grapple with issues such as housing, access to benefits, education and training options, and employment, often without access to the support of a personal adviser or another trusted adult.


  1. To simplify this process and provide support to vulnerable young people at a challenging time in their lives, the government should create a 'Transitions Support Bank.' This would centrally hold all funding available to care leavers and young people with education, health and care plans after they reach 18, helping them to transition into independence before age 25. This would also serve to remove the risk of postcode lotteries in funding and provision, preventing some young people from accessing support that is available to others in different local authority areas.


  1. Alongside this, all local authorities should develop additional initiatives to support care leavers, and be given central government funding to do this, such as offering funding for driving lessons, subsidised public transport, or membership to a gym, sports or other club membership. These are all measures that would remove barriers to education, employment and positive mental wellbeing. In addition, all care leavers, by default, should be exempt from paying council tax up to the age of 25 where they live independently.


Use of unregulated provision


  1. CSDG has always held serious concerns with the use of unregulated accommodation for vulnerable children under age 16. Much of this provision is not properly operated, offering unsupervised care rather than the right level of applicable support to safeguard young people. In some instances, this type of provision leaves young people at significant risk of exploitation. We therefore strongly support the government's decision to ban the use of unregulated independent and semi-independent placements for children under the age of 16.


  1. CSDG also welcomes the government's decision to introduce national standards for unregulated settings that are accommodating 16 and 17-year-olds. This is a step in right direction but ultimately we believe that all provision for any young person under the age of 18 should be both regulated and registered by Ofsted. Where there is genuine value for a young person in being supported to transition into adulthood via semi-independent living then this can be used but it must be properly regulated to ensure that any young person in those placements is receiving high quality support and accommodation from properly qualified staff.




  1. CSDG members remain committed to working with government and local authorities to improve access to the best possible care and support for looked after children and to strengthen transitions support with the overarching aim of improving outcomes for these vulnerable young people.



About CSDG


CSDG, under independent chair, Andrew Isaac, is a coalition of leading independent providers of care and specialist education services for children and young people with complex needs. We have worked and campaigned together since 2006, championing child-centred, outcomes-focused care for looked after children and young people and those with special educational needs that ensures their stable and successful transition into adulthood. As a group, over 98% of our fostering provision, 89% of our special schools and 85% of our children's homes are rated Good or Outstanding.


Our members are: Compass Community, Outcomes First Group, Polaris Community, Priory Group, SENAD Group and Witherslack Group.


April 2021

[1]Local Government Association, Comprehensive Spending Review 2020: LGA Submission, 29 September 2020

[2]Department for Education, Children looked after in England including adoption: 2009 to 2010, 30 September 2010,

[3]Department for Education, Children looked after in England including adoptions reporting year 2020, 19 February 2021,

[4]Department for Education, Children looked after in England including adoptions reporting year 2020, 19 February 2021,

[5]Department for Education, Children looked after in England including adoption: 2009 to 2010, 30 September 2010,

[6]Department for Education, National Statistics Children looked after in England including adoption: 2017 to 2018, 15 November 2018

[7]Department for Education, Children looked after in England (including adoption), year ending 31 March 2019, 5 December 2019,

[8]UCAS, UCAS End of Cycle Report 2019, 28 November 2019,

[9]Gov.UK, Care leavers in prison and probation, 12 August 2019,

[10]Howard League for Penal Reform, Criminalisation of children in residential care should be “a national concern”, 10 July 2017,

[11]CSDG, Destination Unknown: Improving transitions for care leavers and young people with special educational needs and disabilities,