Commissioning and Competition

9 February 2017: News round-up

THE NATIONAL Fostering Agency’s acquisition of Acorn Care and Education Group is coming under further scrutiny from the government’s Competition and Markets Authority following the announcement of an initial investigation last autumn (TWiF 27 Sept 2016).
The decision to launch a phase two investigation follows concerns raised by local authorities about achieving value for money via existing framework agreements. These agreements see groups of local authorities establish a list of independent foster care providers to bridge any shortfall where their own in-house pool of carers are unable to meet demand for foster placements. The CMA reviewed all local authority framework areas in which the companies overlap in the UK, and found concerns about framework agreements in Wales, Norfolk and the agreement covering Luton, central Bedfordshire and Bedford. “In each of these framework areas, the merged company’s position is strong and we found that local authorities may face challenges in ensuring value for money in framework tenders,” it said.

The news prompted TACT, the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity to renew its call to end to fostering for profit.  “I want to see the ban in Scotland on firms making profits from fostering extended to England,” said TACT CEO Andy Elvin. “Excessive profits are being made by some agencies at a time when there is less money in the system. That clearly can’t be a good thing for vulnerable children.”

IN CONTRAST Harvey Gallagher, CEO of the National Association of Fostering Providers reports on “a very worrying trend for local authority commissioning of foster care to set very low ‘capped’ prices” that he says he has witnessed in the last few months. “This means that the tendered contract for independent and voluntary sector fostering providers has a maximum price set against a notional idea of a unit cost.”  Children are different and need different kinds of support that cost different amounts of money, he says. “If a provider cannot offer their services at or below that price, they cannot bid to be a part of the contract,” Gallagher goes on. “This means that those foster care services not on the contract, regardless of their quality, value for money or appropriateness for an individual child, will only ever be used as a last resort.” Children should be supported in the way that’s best for them, not what is cheapest, he adds.

PARENTAL CONSENT is not required for councils to legally provide accommodation of children under Section 20 of the 1989 Children’s Act, the Court of Appeal has ruled. The Court of Appeal judges overturned an earlier High Court ruling that the London Borough of Hackney were wrong to continue to accommodate the children of a couple who had been arrested even though their bail conditions prevented them from having contact with their children. While Section 20 does not require parents to give consent to their children remaining in care where they are unable to provide accommodation the High Court made its decision using guidance issued by Family Court head Sir James Munby on the use of Section 20. It also found that Hackney’s decision had deprived the couple of their right to family life. Child law blogger suesspicious minds details the rulings and appeals here.

THE FAMILY Rights Group has published a guide to initial family and friends (viability) assessments developed by an expert working group including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Fostering Network. Family and friends care is becoming increasingly used to enable children coming into care to be fostered by people they already know and the guide outlines the process of completing a viability assessment to determine whether they could provide sustainable long-term care.

BARNARDOS CLAIMS that cases of children sexually abusing other children are rising after the number of alleged offences reported to police forces in England and Wales rose by 78% in the four years to 2016. The charity warns that child-on-child sexual abuse could become the next major child protection issue and is calling for a national government strategy to tackle it. “We’re deeply concerned more children may be sexually harming other children,” said the organisation’s chief executive Javed Khan. “We know this can be because they’ve been abused themselves and may not have received the right support to help them recover.”

But Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Child Protection, said, “We believe we can attribute these increases to more awareness and greater victim confidence.” But he added, “We also have to look at the possibility that more abuse is being perpetrated and if technology is facilitating this.”

CYP NOW reports on delays to a government scheme to support trafficked children introduced under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act which has raised concerns among anti-trafficking organisation Ecpat UK. Legislation requiring local authorities to provide independent advocates to all trafficked children that need them was among provisions in the legislation but is yet to be enacted. The Home Office has issued guidance for three early adopters of the scheme who will now run pilot schemes until 2019.


Photo by Aaron Burden

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