Is it time for more private sector in Children’s Services? Increasing the involvement of the private sector in children’s services is a controversial debate to say the least. There are strong opinions on how extensive of a role the private sector should play in any service, but when it comes to protecting and supporting the most vulnerable children in the UK, the debate is understandably fierce.
Contrary to what some people may believe though, the private sector is already heavily involved in UK children’s services. Of the 2,209 children’s homes in England in 2018 – which accounts for around two thirds of all social care providers OFSTED inspects – there were 1,610 privately owned children’s homes; this is almost 4 times the number run by local authorities.
The private sector already plays an important role in children’s services but if given the right incentives, they could play a much bigger, and much more effective role in children’s services in the future.
The Private Sector in Children’s Services: A Modern Solution
Just like many areas of government funding, spending on children in England has experienced significant budget cuts in recent years. Despite a rise in funding in the 2000s, the cuts between 2009/10 and 2019/20 are expected to be 17%. For children’s services, preventive and early interventions experienced cuts of around 60% between 2009/10 and 2016/17. In the same time frame, spending on children’s services reduced by 16% per head.
The reduction in funding not only leaves existing children’s services to struggle, but also does nothing to address the need for better and more extensive services for the growing population. To combat the shortfall left by the budget cuts, the private sector is one of the best solutions. In the private sector, funding is not in short supply, and neither is innovative-thinking or solutions that are in-touch with the needs of children.
Private sector organisations can provide real solutions to real problems in children’s services that the government have failed to address. The role of both private and voluntary organisations can be extensive. As with most organisations, the private sector is run for profit, which means that these organisations generally identify a need and then seek to provide for it. They can provide specialist services away from what the state may deem ‘necessary’ including everything from after school activities to therapeutic work.
What Would an Increase in Private Sector Involvement Mean for Children’s Services?
The worry that a larger involvement of the private sector would mean a more profit-driven society, where profit is put before great care, is an understandable concern. However, in the same way that local authorities have a vast number of statutory duties when providing services for children, so do private organisations. Children’s homes, as an example, are subject to OFSTED inspection whether they’re run by the local authorities or the private sector.
In a full OFSTED review of children’s homes in 2017, the performance of local authority homes in comparison to private homes was very similar. 85% of local authority homes received either a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ score, compared to 80% of private homes. In 2018, an inspection of the largest private and voluntary children’s home providers revealed similar results. One private children’s home provider, the Outcomes First Group, received only good and outstanding scores for their 26 homes.
An increase in the private sector in children’s services could mean that the government funding shortfall doesn’t have to limit the services available for children that need support the most. Private sector organisations can provide additional services, from recreational activities to children’s homes, that offer the extra provisions needed to support children in the UK. When held to the same standards as public sector provisions, this could mean more resources, less government strain, and better support for all children.
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