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How Is Fair And Transparent Decision-making To Be Established And Enacted For Children’s Social Care Placements?

How is fair and transparent decision-making to be established and enacted for children’s social care placements?

The High Court ruled that the government’s creation of a ‘VIP Lane’ for preferential treatment in procurement is unlawful as it breaches the principles of open and fair competition (or ‘equal treatment’ as the Judge put it) between all potential contractors, that should have applied in the tendering processes that the government was undertaking to buy essential supplies with public money.

This being so then it follows the recently announced funding for local authorities to open children’s homes and supported accommodation for children is similarly unlawful. The money has been awarded only to local authorities. This is work in hand.

How is fair and transparent decision-making to be established and enacted?

If care arrangements and settings for children who need care are exempted from public competition rules altogether then what are to be the decision-making mechanisms? (This is to set aside the interregnum of getting to this place from where we are now without losing lots of important provision. It would require socialisation of assets and any hint of this may result in investor flight, and it must be remembered that 75%+ of children’s homes are privately financed).

NCERCC has agreement and disagreement with the Children England position.

The idea of localism is being upheld by many sector leaders and commentators. It needs much deeper analysis.

NCERCC agrees with Children England that ‘The fundamental difference between public procurement of vital supplies, and public commissioning of care services, is that services are about people – the people who need them, and the people who care for them – while the procurement of supplies is about “things” – products that are bought and sold in all sorts of contexts (not just by governments), that once bought can be transported to wherever they’re needed. The child who needs to be cared for has rights, not just to the care that is right for them, but to be cared for by people, and in a place, where they can maintain their friendships and community bonds, to stay at the same school if they can, to have visits and contacts with family. The care they need is not a product that can be purchased from anywhere in the world and brought to them’.

Indeed, and that is why the principles of ‘As local as possible and as specialist as necessary’ is important along with the appreciation that specialist and generalist needs require different commissioning/procurement approaches and methodology.

These topics are addressed in NCERCC documents

  • As local as possible and as specialist as necessary is important – Reconfiguring for a recognition and realisation of high level needs a new conceptual framework  in social care placements
  • Specialist and generalist needs require different commissioning/procurement approaches and methodology

These documents make clear

The focus needs to be on needs analysis, assessment, planning provision, so that every child has the most appropriate placement.

The most effective and efficient use of high level needs provision comes when knowing it is getting the right placement first time that is effective and efficient.

There are two principal goals identified to reach this sustainable position:

  • appropriately assessment knowledge and experience
  • appropriate and cost-effective provision.

It is planning not markets that delivers efficient, sustainable and appropriate meeting of need.

To achieve this requires

All parties are connected in relational rather than transactional working.

Appropriate and thorough provision mapping, with potential development of more local provision

Realisation that appropriate matching accounts for a proportion of costs.

It is vital there is mapping of local, regional and national provision.

Sufficiency is generalist. Sufficiency is not specialist. Approaching specialist need with a sufficiency perspective is insufficient.

It is not the case that provision for specialist needs can be scaled up from generalist. There are numerous examples of this being attempted that have resulted in failure, placing children and staff in danger by not approaching the matter clinically.


Specialist and generalist start from a different place. Specialisms are not more of the same generalism, as we see with the increased use of 2:1, 3:1, 4:1 and the opting out of regulated provision. The increase in the use of highly staffed unregulated provision shows the failure of generalist settings to meet specialist need.


Specialism is not an enhanced generalism. Specialist needs are a different category of need.


A set schedule or specification for which a unit cost is applied squeezes specialist provision into an inappropriate system.


These transitional questions become the first focus

  • Do we have sufficient provision within the local authority or neighbouring area to meet current and anticipated needs?
  • How strong are our working relationships with neighbouring LAs in relation to joint planning and use of specialist provision?
  • Do we have an appropriate sufficiency strategy in place for specialist provision?
  • Are we maximising opportunities to place children in appropriate and cost-effective provision?
  • Have we results of a granular needs analysis and a gap analysis of provision?
  • Do we know what can be met as local as possible and as specialist as necessary?


In this way the commodification of care is the focus not its symptom, the right to compete. As Children England observe ‘Care is not a product, it is vital societal infrastructure…’

Being needs-led we find we will need local, sub-regional, regional and nation al provision for some needs.

This thinking is made possible through the Children England Care Bank idea for a national funding and oversight body for the care sector, that (among other things) would make sure that the money for every child’s care follows that child and pays for whatever they need, hence bringing national funds into the local care system no matter where they live, or what wider financial challenges their council faces.