Are Local Authorities Achieving Effective Market Stewardship for Children's Social Care Services? A Synthesis of Sufficiency Strategies for Children in Care in England

Anders M Bach-Mortensen, Hannah Murray, Benjamin Goodair, Eleanor Carter, Eleanor Briggs, Aoife O’Higgins - What Works for Children's Social Care

Securing good quality, supportive accommodation that meets the needs of children in, or on the edge of, care is a vital step in delivering improved outcomes for children and young people. Over the last 10 years, local authorities (LAs) have had to balance an increasing demand for children’s services with budget cuts. As a consequence, service provisions are highly variable across LAs, who struggle to fnance the growing demand for both adult and children’s social care. Whilst it is known that the number of children in care is increasing and that commissioning practices vary across LAs, the capability and efforts of local authorities to respond to this challenge as corporate parents are less well understood.

This report provides analysis of all up-to-date LA sufficiency strategies with a focus on identifying (I) the main perceived challenges for LAs to meet their sufficiency duty, (II) what actions are being undertaken or planned by LAs to improve commissioning outcomes, and (III) perceived negative consequences associated with using certain commissioning or market shaping approaches. This work was commissioned by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

The authors analysed a total of 81 sufficiency strategies covering 84 (56%) English LAs. Our findings reveal some nationally shared challenges in dealing with increasing numbers of children in care as well as changes in children’s characteristics and needs. Coupled with increasing costs of services and difficulties finding appropriate placements in family settings, our analysis creates a picture of LAs struggling to navigate the marketised system of children’s residential care and to provide the quality of services which they strive to achieve.