Location, location, location – the phrase made popular by the Channel 4 show of the same name, but one that has a deeper meaning when it comes to children’s social care.
Much has been written in recent years about vulnerable individuals being placed in care many miles from home. But a recent investigation by the BBC into the rapid rise of children’s homes in Blackpool has sparked fresh debate about where new provision should be located.
Cheap house prices have been touted as one of the reasons why the number of Blackpool settings has grown from 10 to 39 since 2016, with many youngsters being sent from as far as London to live in a seaside town hampered by social deprivation.
Unsurprisingly, the BBC analysis has led to wider questions about the motives of independent providers, the quality of services, and the financial gains being made – it’s a complex conversation that quite often fails to distinguish between the good and the bad.
Yes – there are businesses that place profit over purpose and see cheap housing stock as the driver behind expansion. Yet, there are many, many more that have a considered and patient outlook when it comes to opening new children’s homes. Understanding where the greatest needs are requires perseverance and, importantly, commissioner engagement.
The reality is, it’s often a difficult answer to find. However, rather than giving up at the first hurdle, it’s essential to ask again, and again, and again, until you have that all-important location written down in black and white from the relevant local authority. At the end of the day, it is all about location, location, location – not the one that suits the commercial motivations of a provider, but one that offers real value to the commissioning body in terms of meeting sufficiency requirements and, more importantly, leads to positive outcomes for young people.
Engagement takes time, and it can often lead to the best laid plans being put on hold while those answers are found. But, if we genuinely want to address the issue of provision and ensure that the safety of children remains front and centre, then we have to work hard to create meaningful conversations, and we have to demonstrate that the private and public sector can work hand-in-hand to create high quality provision to meet local demand. We need to nurture existing relationships; we need to recognise the value of information sharing in a fair and equitable way; and we need to create an environment where collaboration is central in the identification of placements that are beneficial to the children they’re intended to serve, rather than heightening any perceived risk.