Outsourced social care linked to concerns over placements of vulnerable children

Child and adult holding hands

A new study led by DSPI Senior Postdoctoral Researcher Anders Bach-Mortensen, Research Assistant Benjamin Goodair, and Head of Department Jane Barlow, shows that the growth in for-profit provision of outsourced children’s services is linked with out of area and unstable placements. 

The study reveals for-profit outsourcing is associated with more looked-after children being placed outside their home areas and ‘greater placement instability’ over time. The researchers estimate that an additional 17,000 out-of-area placements from 2011 to 2022 may be attributed to increases in for-profit provision.  

DSPI Senior Postdoctoral Researcher Anders Bach-Mortensen and Research Assistant Benjamin Goodair concluded: ‘Despite the numerous independent reviews and investigations, a significant proportion of children are still being placed in unstable or out-of-area care, exposing already vulnerable children to additional risks. Our analysis shows for-profit outsourcing is consistently associated with worse placement outcomes among local authorities. This suggests that increasing the already significant proportion of for-profit children’s social placements may not be the most effective strategy to improve outcomes in the children’s social care sector.’ 

According to the report, by 2022, 38% of all children in care are placed with for-profit providers an increase of 9% points since 2011. However, there is large variation in how much Local Authorities use the for-profit sector.  And the report finds, ‘We observe that increases in for-profit outsourcing are associated with worse placement outcomes on average…For-profit outsourcing is consistently associated with more children being placed outside their home Local Authority and greater long-term placement instability.’ 

The study concludes, ‘Despite the numerous independent reviews and investigations, a significant proportion of children are still being placed in unstable or out-of-area care, exposing already vulnerable children to additional risks.’ 

Read the published study