Nearly half of Enfield children in care moved outside borough

Shortage of available care placements and cost-of-living crisis blamed for problems, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Two children looking out a window (credit Jess Zoerb via Unsplash)
credit Jess Zoerb via Unsplash

Children are being placed into care miles away from friends and family in Enfield as a nationwide shortage of placements is exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.

A council report reveals almost half of looked-after children were placed outside of the borough as of September last year – and officers said some were living around 100 miles away “in the Midlands and beyond”.

The report, which was presented to a meeting of the children, young people and education scrutiny panel on Tuesday, shows that in September there were 212 looked-after children placed within the borough and 181 in other local authority areas.

A shortage of placements, which is affecting the whole country, is also pushing up costs for councils. The report reveals that the average weekly fee in Enfield for residential care has increased from around £3,000 per week to £5,000 per week during the past three years.

Ramasasi Ramasubramanian, the council’s head of access to resources integrated services, told the meeting that the majority of the local authority’s placements were within the borough “but the children that go into externally commissioned placements are being placed out of borough”.

Under questioning from panel member Suna Hurman, Ramasasi said some children “are going as far as even the Midlands and beyond, 100 miles away, which is worrying”.

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The report warns that placing young people a long way from their parents, school and social networks “consistently leads to poor outcomes for children”. Anne Stoker, the council’s director of children and family services, said the civic centre’s priority was to place children “as close to Enfield as possible”, although she pointed out that it is sometimes beneficial for children to be placed outside of London for safety reasons.

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As well as a shortage of children’s homes, one of the most significant problems affecting the sector is a lack of foster carers, which officers warned was being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. Anne said a “significant number” of foster carers had been resigning this year “because it is a struggle for them to continue to deliver as a foster carer”.

Officers detailed a range of measures being taken by the council to help tackle the shortages. These include increasing allowances and fees paid to Enfield foster carers, expanding children’s home provision, and helping high-risk care leavers to access council tenancies sooner.

Foster carers are also set to benefit from one-off payments of £300 to help with fuel costs, grants to build loft conversions that will allow them to take on more children, and ‘golden hello’ payments of £1,000 for those switching from agencies to the council.

The council is currently looking to advertise and promote Enfield’s fostering service on buses and billboards in the borough. In addition, existing foster carers have been asked to host recruitment events in their homes for people in their network or their friends’ networks who may be interested in fostering.

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