The children’s care system now costs the government £3.4 billion per year, the Audit Commission found in one of its final reports.
The organisation, which monitored public expenditure, noted that the number of children entering the care system rose by 12 per cent between 2010 and March 2013, and as a result the total bill now exceeds £1 billion.
The Commission reports major differences in the expenditure of different councils. While most councils spend around £50,000 per year on ‘looked after’ children in their care – equivalent to around £137 per day – as many as 21 spend an average of just £40,000 per year. More than 30 other councils, meanwhile, spent more – in excess of £60,000 on average.
A shortage of foster carers in certain areas meant higher prices for the local councils, the Commission found, as those councils were then forced to use more expensive out-of-area placements, Children & Young People Now reports. Others without sufficient available foster carers turn to fostering agencies, but these can cost as much as a third more than in-house services.
Jeremy Newman was Chair of the Audit Commission. He pointed to benefits of inter-council cooperation in driving prices down.
“Councils should use their collective purchasing power to get maximum value for the £1.5bn they spend on foster care. Rather than competing with each other, potentially driving up prices, councils should consider whether collaborating with neighbouring councils can secure the services they need, at a price they can better afford.”
The Audit Commission closed last month and its functions were transferred to other government departments.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen via Flickr