London Councils commissioned the University of Bedfordshire and Channon Consulting to undertake a research study to examine the use of and approaches to commissioning out-of-area placements for children in care in London. The study was undertaken between November 2013 and March 2014.
The research took place in a policy and practice context where there is ongoing concern regarding how best to meet the complex needs of children in care, and the extent to which out of area placements are helpful. The study aims to provide a detailed picture of the current use of out-of-area placements in London boroughs; the challenges and opportunities associated with this and how policy and practice might be improved in respect to the use of out-of-area placements in London.
The study found:
- When viewed in terms of the proportion of looked after children placed within 20 miles of home, London is generally in line with other regions in England.
- London’s proportion of LAC placed out of borough is not markedly different from other small or urban authorities.
- There is an upward trend in terms of the levels of LAC placed within 20 miles of home across almost all regions of England, including London.
- There is a need to avoid demonising out of area placements as invariably representing poor practice. Evidence gathered through this report suggests that LAC are placed out of area primarily to access more specialist provision that is better able to meet their needs. The assessment of placements should be, and is, driven by consideration of a range of factors, of which distance is one.
- Data from all sources indicated the variability of use of out of area placements. It is clear that there is no one picture for London as a whole. The effective use of data in scoping and analysing the local picture within individual boroughs and neighbouring boroughs is therefore an important element in ensuring greater clarity about how effectively these placements are being used.
- There are a number of trends affecting the availability of residential provision. While commissioners are committed to using high quality provision, there are concerns that Ofsted ratings are not always helpful in supporting smaller providers. It was generally agreed that a mixed economy of provision, with a range of local providers as well as more specialist settings, was the preferred option for commissioners to meet the varied needs of their LAC cohorts. Good assessment and the ability to translate this into clear requirements for providers was viewed as essential to improving the matching of individual needs to placements.
- While there was evidence of some good practice, the findings from the study emphasise the need for greater consistency in ensuring that children and young people placed out of area have access to good health and education services to improve longer term outcomes. Specific difficulties were associated with access to CAMHS services and housing for care leavers. These findings indicate the need for reconsideration of how responsibility for children and young people in care can be shared across authorities, regardless of their home local authority.