Council to spend £16k a week on one-child care home in Basldon as stress on service mounts

The number of children in care in Essex is likely to rise – leaving the need for a £16,000 a week investment in an emergency care home for one child at a time in Basildon.

Essex County Council has said due to increased separated migrant children, post-Covid court delays, increased cost of living and increased referrals into social care, it anticipates the number of children in care to increase from 1,162 as of March 2023, to 1,250 within the next two years.

It says this is one of the reasons it is set to spend up to £600,000 upgrading a former three-bed schoolhouse at the Woodlands School in Basildon to be used as an emergency children’s home for one child in care at a time. The council says running the home will cost an estimated £16,000 per week through an external provider.

A statement as part of a decision that has been made by Councillor Beverley Egan, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Early Years said: “As of March 31 2023, there were 1,162 children in care in Essex. Forecasts show numbers may rise to 1,250 within the next two years considering pressures from increased separated migrant children, post Covid court delays, cost of living and increased referrals into social care. Of this increase, a further eight residential placements are expected to be required if placement percentage dispersal remains consistent in the next two years.

“The need for residential care can arise quickly. Therefore, it is necessary for the council to have easy access to a range of reliable and effective residential care providers to deliver placements to young people. Providers currently report hundreds of referrals per vacancy. The council will be the only referrer into Woodlands.”

During 2020/2022 the behaviour of around six children per six-month period was so bad – impacting children in placements – that that placement had to end. The council says that “by commissioning a solo provision, it enables restorative approaches and for a provider to demonstrate commitment to the one child placed.”

A statement added: “We know after a review of the market in Essex has shown that there is no more Ofsted registered emergency care and accommodation for Looked After Children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs available at this time. The market has indicated that it struggles to find appropriate buildings, to secure the capital to acquire the buildings, to negotiate the planning and Ofsted registration process, and to make the delivery of these services viable financially.

“Therefore, allowing a procurement of emergency regulated provision for children and young people in care which will be delivered in an Essex County Council owned property would be a positive as it will ensure support is available to support a young person under the age of 16 who required an emergency regulated placement.

“While there are currently short-term options to provide this approach would ensure we were compliant with the ban on unregulated placements for under 16s in the longer term. Those under 16 utilising this provision could include those with mental health issues as this support is based on need and does not exclude any group of children or young people based on their protected characteristics.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter