A COUNCIL could buy up properties on the open market as it looks to develop its own children’s homes.
Monmouthshire County Council plans to develop three types of residential placements for children in its care; standard children’s homes, bespoke residential homes for those with more complex needs and requiring therapeutic support, and supported accommodation for those aged 16 and over, up to 24 years old, who are leaving care or homeless.
Jane Rodgers, the council’s chief officer for social services, told the people scrutiny committee that was reviewing the plans
“It is quite a step forward for the local authority,” she said. “We have not had in house residential care for many years and I think the point has come that we need to carefully consider that.”
Increasing demand for residential care places, especially the most supportive bespoke placements, have contributed to consistent overspends in children’s services while a shortage of placements also means children can be placed out of county.
The Welsh Government is also introducing new legislation to remove for profit operators from children’s care which has caused instability in the care “market”.
Ms Rodgers stressed the council first looks for family, or kinship, carers and then foster care with a residential placement the last option unless the child’s needs require that. It also struggles due to a lack of its own foster carers, meaning it can have to use independent providers.
At the end of December last year the council had 17 children in for-profit residential placements plus an additional two in not regulated provision and isn’t currently able to provide such placements itself.
At the same time the council also had five children in bespoke placements. It currently has two properties, Woodview and Skirrid View, that provide up to two placements each, though both are currently needed for solo placements.
There will also be 13 youngsters in its care turning 16 over the next 12 months, and 37 turning 16 or 17 over the next two years, while its current arrangements with the Pobl housing association only provides 15 spaces for care leavers, with some spaces in another project specifically for unaccompanied child asylum seekers.
As a result the council intends either reusing an existing building to provide supported accommodation or buying a building. It intends to provide an extra 20 places as it says not all those leaving care will want supported accommodation and it will review demand annually.
To increase provision of bespoke homes it’s intended to either use an existing council building or buy a property to develop two further in house placements. The specialist support will be provided by not-for-profit agencies.
At present there is a contract with charity Action for Children to provide care at Woodview while Skirrid View is owned by Monmouth Housing Association and leased to the council with a for-profit organisation providing care.
For the standard children’s homes the council wants to create 12 additional places in three properties which would again either be repurposed council buildings or properties it would buy. It would still also be able to use places in independent homes run by not-for profits.
Typically the children’s homes would be in four of five bed houses and Ms Rodgers said they should be close to amenities and schools while the supported accommodation for care leavers would also need to be where those living there could easily travel, without assistance, to school, college or work.
The bespoke homes would be more suited for rural locations and the council could consider some of its county farm properties.
The full council will later this month be asked to approve raising the amount of money the cabinet can agree to borrow, from £2 million to £3 million, so it can buy properties if required.
Committee members, who endorsed the plans, asked if there would be an opportunity to scrutinise decisions before any purchases. Cllr Ian Chandler, who is responsible for social care, said the need to move quickly would likely mean scrutiny would only take place after a property has been acquired.
Reusing existing council buildings could however be considered by councillors before any decision is made.
Cllr Sue Riley asked if local members would be informed if homes were to be based in their wards as reusing existing homes may not require change of use planning permission.
Landlord manager Nick Keyse said a registered children’s home would require approval but said the council would “engage” with ward members but said “sensitivity in advance of purchase” would “need to be managed”.