Local authorities spent £2.5 billion in 2012-13 supporting children in foster and residential care, a real terms increase of 3% since 2010-11. Local authorities in England looked after 68,110 children (at the end of March 2013), the highest level for 20 years. Most children in care, 75%, are fostered. Nearly two thirds (62%) of children are in care because they have suffered abuse or neglect. Children’s early experiences can have long-term impacts on their emotional and physical health, social development, education and future employment. Children in care do less well in school than their peers. They are also more likely to experience problems in later life, which can have a wider social impact and lead to higher costs to the public purse. There has been no improvement since 2009 in getting children into the right placement first time and close to home. At the end of March 2013, 34% of children in care had more than one placement during the year, the same proportion since 2009 and 14% of foster children and 34% of those in residential care were placed more than 20 miles from home. The overall numbers have not improved in the last four years.
Demand for care is increasing and varies significantly across England. The Department for Education has objectives to improve the quality of care and the stability of placements for children in residential or foster care, so that all children have a good start in life. However, the Department cannot demonstrate that it is meeting its objectives and does not fully understand why the cost of care varies across the country. This inquiry will examine how the Department measures its effectiveness in improving the quality of care and meeting children’s needs, and improving the system’s cost-effectiveness. The Committee will also look at how the Department will use its Innovation Programme to better understand what works in commissioning to improve outcomes for children in care.