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The care system contains many talented and tireless staff who provide excellent care, but the unfortunate reality is that the system still fails some children. The yearly Stability Index for children in care produced by this office shows that 1 in 10 children in care experience two or more home moves during a year, and more than half of children in care will have at least one home move in three years. Our research on so-called “out of area” placements, shows that over 30,000 children in care are living in one – including 2,000 children who are more than a hundred miles away from home. Furthermore, over the course of a year, 1 in 8 children in care will spend some time in an unregulated placement. The Children’s Commissioner’s advice service, Help At Hand, encounters new cases every day of children who are being let down by the care system.

Over the last decade, the challenge of providing capacity to care for the most vulnerable children has increasingly fallen to the private sector as the demand for care has grown and local authority provision has not kept pace, or even shrunk in some areas. There were over 11,000 more children in care in 2019 than there were in 2011 – 73% of those additional children were cared for by private organisations. Over the last decade, we have seen expansion from both smaller providers (who might own one or two homes) and major private equity investment.

This report reviews the market for provision in children’s social care and focuses on private provision, given its growth and consolidation in recent years. It explores the profits made by private companies and what their involvement means for children. It also raises questions about the way some large private providers are financed, potentially creating risks and instability for the functioning of the market – and ultimately for the children in their care.

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