In May 2013, a Freedom of Information request was sent to all local authorities in England enquiring about the policy used when placing children in external placements. The survey suggests that as many as 33 local authorities are openly placing specific time restrictions on independent sector placements. Responses included:
- “If the placement is being commissioned due to a lack of in-house resources, then we commission for 4 weeks initially. Estimated percentage: 75%”
- “21% of all children placed in purchased care are in short term placements. These are children placed out in an emergency due to not having an appropriate placement in-house”
- “If we are aware of a suitable foster placement for a child that will be available within two weeks of an external placement being made we will look to return children to our in house provision”
- “Occasionally the Borough will look for a holding placement due to the needs of the young person rather than to move them back to our own carers. The Borough may also be aware when carers will become available in the near future and if they are considered a match the Borough would prefer to move that young person back to our provision”
- “(The) Council would normally identify a (independent) placement as a short term placement but would not put a limit on this – in the last 12 months 22.7% of placements have been made on this basis”
NAFP believes that this represents just the tip of an iceberg. Its members have described that, on occasion, children are moved back into local authority in-house placements despite professional social work views that the child is starting to settle and would benefit from remaining in their independent placement. Some providers claim that at the end of a 28 day contract, commissioners ask to negotiate a new 28 day term to afford the local authority with further time to source a placement with in-house carers.
Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of NAFP, said 'This practice is bad for children. It provides additional uncertainty for the child and means carers cannot engage in meaningful work with the child to build a trusting relationship. Placement matching processes need to be revised to prioritise the needs of the child and not the needs of a service.'