A pioneering regional scheme co-ordinated by Buckinghamshire County Council has been praised in a national review into the care of vulnerable children ordered by former Prime Minister David Cameron.
The ‘Cross Regional Project’ was singled out as an example of best practice in Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care
Sir Martin calculated the project, which was specially designed to improve the lives of children in care, is saving taxpayers across six authorities £1.4m a year.
The initiative was set up in 2011 for 11 to 18 year olds by Simon Brown, now head of Children’s Care Services in Buckinghamshire. It aims to use the size and flexibility of the partnership to ensure young people in care are sent to homes in their local area, and it also provides them with specialist therapeutic services.
Sir Martin’s report, published in July 2016, said councils in England were doing too little to achieve large savings in children’s residential care.
He acknowledged: ‘It is difficult for individual local authorities to commission residential care effectively, given the small numbers of children needing it in each authority area.‘
But in a special tribute to the Cross Regional Project, Sir Martin added: ‘This project, coordinated by Buckinghamshire on behalf of six local authorities is an exception and shows what can be achieved.‘
Buckinghamshire’s partners are: Oxfordshire, Herts, Milton Keynes, Bracknell Forest and Reading. Before the scheme began, the councils were finding it difficult to meet local need.
Mr Brown said: ‘We were sending children all over the country to services that didn’t appear to have good outcomes. Children were losing communication with friends and family, schools, doctors and mental health service professionals. All we were doing was containing them, not helping them move forward.‘
The partners awarded an eight year contract worth £25m to Keys Childcare. Keys developed six local children’s homes, looking after 20 young people, and a specialist school. All the homes needed to be within 45 minutes travel time of the school which is based in High Wycombe.
Each council is allocated a number of the 20 beds and partner authorities can sell beds to each other where needed, ensuring maximum occupancy. Each child has an assessment by one of the homes’ two therapists within six weeks of arrival.
Mr Brown said the project has been hugely successful. Of the 28 young people placed in the 12 months to March 2016, 64% had a history of significant missing episodes. The same proportion had a history of violence or antisocial behaviour, 54% had an offending history and 29% had seriously self-harmed.
All reduced or stopped these incidents after moving in, he said.
Lin Hazell, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Buckinghamshire County Council, said: ‘I am so impressed with the way this project has succeeded and has set a template for the rest of the country. Everyone involved in it, including our staff and our partner councils, should be very proud to be mentioned in this way in an official report to the Prime Minister.
However, more importantly, it shows that we are succeeding in terms of looking after our vulnerable children. The Ofsted report which rightly criticised some aspects of children’s services in Bucks two years ago was quite a knock-back, so I do hope stories such as this will restore the public’s confidence in what is a very good service.‘
Emma Beech, contracts director for Keys Childcare, said: ‘Keys Childcare is proud to be part of this ground-breaking project and to be delivering excellent therapeutic care and education and in turn positive outcomes for the children placed.‘
Sir Martin, former Head of Prison and Probation Services in England and Wales and ex-CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s, was commissioned to carry out the review last October by the then Prime Minister David Cameron and the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.
Mr Cameron said at the time: ‘We need to make sure that our residential care homes are doing the best possible job they can.‘
Nicky Morgan said: ‘It is our moral duty to create a care system where all children have access to high-quality care that meets their specific needs. I am confident that Sir Martin’s review will help make this ambition a reality.‘