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No One Can Say They Didn’t Know … Ownership Of Children’s Care Placements.

No one can say they didn’t know … ownership of children’s care placements.

The government publication of statistics of the ownership of children’s homes reports the current position.
Largest national providers of private and voluntary social care (March 2021) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The number of homes run by the private sector has increased by 12% from 31 March 2020, from 1,869 homes to 2,096 in 2021.

The number of homes run by the voluntary sector has declined by 12% from 160 to 141 homes.

The number of homes run by local- and health-authorities grew 9% from 430 to 469 homes

Of 2,020 privately owned children’s homes, as at 31 March 2021:

  • 12% are single providers that are not owned by a larger company (1 in 8)
  • 88% are part of a top company with at least 2 homes
  • 46% are owned by companies with 10 or more separate children’s homes, and of these 937 homes, 880 were owned by just 21 top companies.
  • The top 10 companies own 33% of all private children’s homes.
  • The 21 largest companies owned 880 homes, which is 38% of all private children’s homes. These same companies accounted for 45% of all growth in the private sector this year.

Part one

For the past ten years and more NCERCC, often with a small number of notable consistent others, has been researching, analysing, explaining the ownership pattern (and comparative costs) of children’s homes in England.

Before DfE took an interest with the Data Pack 2014 NCERCC had been bringing this to attention in every presentation and publication.

In the earlier days we made people aware of the rise of the privately funded sector.

Later we made people aware of the rise of Private Equity ownership.

As we come closer to today we have shown the trend towards a small number of providers owning an ever-greater proportion of homes.

We have been consistent in asserting that it is a choice as to the ownership density; a choice for government to set policy, a choice for local government with its dual purchaser (setting terms and conditions in frameworks to enable small providers) and provider role ( we have consistently said that if local authorities want to have more of their own homes it is a choice), and providers choosing to be smaller and larger (and if smaller are to resist the larger they need to federate together).

Deliberation and drift – two consistent themes still present today

We have consistently explained the figures, the implications, and potential consequences.

We have explained the deliberation, of both local authorities and providers, involved in the ‘making and shaping of markets’. We worried that the curriculum of the Commissioning Academy did not offer alternatives.

We worried over drift; government funded projects were more of the same. We have shown, with others, how commissioning and procurement has been dysfunctional neither effective in creating the diversity necessary to meet need, or efficient in managing spending.

“How did we let that happen?”

Around 10 years after making a conference speech including the, then, ownership density, the regulator was not making known the proportions at that time, a leading local government councillor and member of the LGA children’s committee (now a Parliamentarian) asked me for the percentages of ownership I had just given. He heard them and said, “How did we let that happen?” I explained deliberation and drift, that nothing had been happening that local government did not know about.

The 2014 DfE Data pack Slide 30

Children Homes data pack 2014 (publishing.service.gov.uk)

370 (21%) were local authority run, 1,293 (73%) were privately run, and 97 (6%) were run by voluntary sector organisations

If by some reason the knowledge was not known, it was made clear by the DfE.

The NCCTC Chair’s introduction 2015

Reflection, appropriation, acceleration, activation, democracy, and dialogue.

For some years I was the chair of the NCCTC conference (National Commissioning and Contracting Training Conference). This 2-day annual conference brings together ministers, government officials, local government leaders and commissioners, providers from voluntary organisations and private sector, researchers.

At the 2015 conference I made the opening remarks with my focus being appropriation (meaning acquisition) acceleration (meaning acquisition was likely to speed up), and activation (all parties, for or against, would need to be active). Democracy and dialogue were the methods.

The remainder of this blog is a lightly edited version of those remarks, tidying up some rough bits, and omitting some that are not relevant for where we are today.

Chair’s opening remarks

In 1962 Bernard Williams, a philosopher, wrote of ‘… the difficulty that (we) … can get … into when (we) … abandon the idea of a reflexive mind in favour of the curious view that experience itself tells us what we’re thinking’

‘… the difficulty when we abandon the idea of the reflexive mind on favour the curious view that experience itself tells us what we’re thinking.’

However, I think it highlights something we need to consider.

We are all involved in business. We are all involved in busyness, achieving the action plan.

Yet do we know where we are going?

There’s a sign on a road near where we live that says, ‘Do Not Follow Sat Nav.’

If you do the road gets narrower, bumpier, and ends.

Do Not Follow Sat Nav.

I worry that we have a Children’s Services robust in its instrumentality, where everything is going well according to plan, until there’s an unintended consequence, or more often unforeseen, as we didn’t spend time considering all the potentials.

Thankfully someone thought about the unintended consequences and put up a sign, ‘Do Not Follow Sat Nav.’

I’m told there is a role and an office in the Vatican for someone with the official title of ‘Devil’s Advocate.’ Their job is to ask reflective questions about what seem to be good ideas. They ask the question,’ Where will we end up?’

The busyness we are all involved with is all consuming. We have little time to stand and stare, but it is an important thing to do. It is powerful, but it is often seen as non-productive. The world looks very different when standing back than close up.

Standing back from commissioning, procurement, and provision there are big influences we have to consider.

We are living in an ideological and economic age. Too infrequently we look at Economics. We look at Finance. The two are not the same thing at all.

There’s a German economist called Streek. He sees we have had the Tax State, this developed the Welfare State. This was followed by the Debt State, this brought to introduction of market forces to the fore. Now, he writes, we are in the Consolidation State, the significant character here is of a smaller State.

Smaller, he writes, demands different relationships. We have to be doing different; we cannot afford to be complacent, only curious, about a co-produced collaborative creation. A critical stance can be a committed one too.

Some current economic thinking is being influenced by Sociology and this brings three important factors for us to note. I’m sure we will all recognise them, though perhaps we haven’t had sufficient time to reflect on them and their effects – Appropriation, Acceleration and Activation.

Appropriation is concerned with territorial gain.

We can see this most visibly when larger companies needing to incorporate smaller ones to keep the financial vehicle going, as noted by the IPC research into the Residential Child Care sector. Or we can see it when local authorities work together in a formal partnership. Or when voluntary agencies are absorbed into larger agencies, e.g., BAAF and Coram. Innovation can be appropriation too as it develops new ways of doing things.

We can see that appropriation is an active factor.

Where do we end up?

We have an ‘economic habitus’ (Bourdieu) that the market is the only way to do things. Markets are inherently unstable no matter how you try to steer, shape, regulate. This often unseen, unacknowledged, instability is a factor we are working with all the time.

I am not saying it is right or wrong, only that appropriation as a big influence has to be factored into how we think. Competition isn’t the only way of doing things, social living requires co-operation too.

Acceleration

Everything today is seen as ‘performative,’ ever quicker, leaner. There is ‘time compression.’

Where do we end up?

There is now interest in what is called the ‘exhausted self.’

Despite the acceleration the ‘jaws of doom’ graphs where costs cross finance continue. In such a situation self-observation and self-reflection can be a corrective to what has been termed ‘blind running’ that allows escalation to continue.

Where might we see ‘time compression’ in Children’s Services? Perhaps in the diminishing length of placements, in programmatic time-limited approaches to placements, in defined intervention sessions of an evidence-based practice.

Again, I am not saying this is right or wrong but that it is an observable factor.

Where do we end up?

Activation

At its most grandiose this can be seen in an expectation that all can do everything. Necessary for this is the reduction of boundaries developed over time to make things operate. The reduction may increase speed, yet it has a corresponding increase in anxiety, this maybe predominates a person’s experience. Anxiety and stress are different.

If we can identify these factors as present the question I hope we can consider in the context of the title of this conference, ‘Rebuilding Better Children’s Services Together’ is ‘What is the world we are contracting for ourselves and those we work with?’

These factors are not personally driven or chosen but structurally determined. We have to consider our structures – where will end up?

‘Doing different’ is about a reworking of power and resources.

I’d like to propose that we do not yet know how radical that doing different has to be – but in the next two days we might just be able to get a glimpse.

Part of it might be being able to live with an ‘unfinishedness’ of a journey, (Friere) being OK with being unfinished makes everything still possible.

Part of it might be recovering the ‘social’ to stand alongside the economic and financial.

As the National Audit Office report on LAC guides us for a discussion over Quality and Value. For a good short description of where we are on this subject please read the DfE research on Fair pricing.

This is good research because it stands back, looks at where we are, asks some questions, acknowledges the situation, and describes what might be done democratically and in dialogue.

To follow in the next days

  • Part two 2016 NCCTC 2016 – The commissioning of Hope
  • Part three NCCTC 2017 – Maintaining trust and relationships

The purpose of the blogs is to show that no one can say they didn’t know where we were going. Now we are ‘here’, and the question is, ‘where do we want to go, and should we use the SatNav, or must we recalibrate our thinking and recalculate the route?’

NCERCC