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CHILDREN’S HOMES: Ten new homes could be opened in Somerset

CHILDREN’S HOMES: Ten new homes could be opened in Somerset

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Ten new children’s homes could be opened across Somerset by 2026 to provide better support for the county’s most vulnerable children.

Somerset County Council’s children’s services team has seen the cost of residential placement for children in its care rise sharply in recent times, putting pressure on its ability to deliver other services.

To prevent further sharp rises in costs, and improve the lot of children with the most complex needs, the council is investing millions of pounds over the next five years into new children’s homes.

The council will also invest in the same period in higher needs foster carers and specialist therapeutic education to ensure the children in question have everything they need.

The new investment was unanimously agreed by the council’s cabinet when it met in Taunton on Monday morning (June 21).

Councillor Frances Nicholson, cabinet member for children and families, said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be bringing this forward. These children have had some of the biggest challenges – but they are still children, and they need to be brought up as best we can.

“We need to make sure that for each child who needs our support and help to grow up and to be a happy, healthy, contributing adult – it’s where they live, the people they’re with and the education they have.

“Putting those three together so we can provide the right help for the right child at the right time is what this is all about.”

The council has admitted it is currently “too reliant on larger for-profit providers” in how it delivers children’s social care, including residential placements.

Helen Price,the council’s assistant director for children’s commissioning and performance, said in her written report: “Children and young people have indicated that they dislike having homes that are distant from their friends and family, and they would like staff who are nurturing and friendly.

“They want to be close to activities and school and want to be able to make friends. This is difficult to achieve in the current context and can result in young people having several homes, relationship breakdowns and disruptions.

“Young people with more complex needs living in children’s homes are likely to have poorer outcomes than their peers in more settled arrangements; they are seven times more likely to go missing from home, six times more to be exploited, and four times more likely to misuse substances.”

To combat this terrible problem, the council has agreed to purchase up to ten new children’s homes within the next five years, with up to £3M being committed from its capital budget.

Each homes will have no more than four children living there to ensure care can be “personalised and individually tailored”, and will be integrated with high needs fostering and “therapeutic education” to ensure every child gets the support they need.

The council will not run the homes directly in-house, and has not confirmed where it intends for the new facilities to be located.

Instead, partners will be contracted to run the homes and provide the education and specialist fostering over a ten-year period, with the contract being worth up to £70M in total.

In 2020/21, the council commissioned 83 residential placements for children its care at a cost of £15.5M per year – 16.2 per cent higher than the same number of placements would have cost two years ago.

If the current system is left in place, the council estimates it will be spending nearly £86M a year on residential placements for children by 2031/32.

Under the new system, the rise will be much slower, reaching just over £38M by 2031/21 – a difference of more than £47M a year.

Ms Price said that by 2026, the council would be spending £8M on this specific service – of which £5.1M would go on the running costs of the homes, £1M on the therapeutic education, £1.5M on high needs fostering and £400,000 on management and development, including staff training.

She added: “This is about securing children’s homes, high needs fostering and therapeutic education for the children who need it the most.

“We need to make sure that we provide services which reflect how children and young people live their lives.

“Councillor Faye Purbrick, cabinet member for transformation and local government reform, added: “I’m fully behind taking the market by the horns here. This is a long-term contract that has amazing potential for our young people.”

The council will now begin procuring both the buildings and the contractors to provide the services, with the first new homes expected to be available by the winter of 2021/22.

Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter

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