The Promise Scotland’s Response to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) Interim Report on the Children’s Social Care Market published on 22nd October

The Promise Scotland welcomes the CMA’s Interim Report. Having read it closely and carefully,  it notes the CMA’s reinforcement of the analysis set out by the Independent Care Review.

In February 2020, Scotland accepted the conclusions of the Care Review  in full and made the promise that its most vulnerable children would no longer be profited from:

the promise, p.112

Throughout the preceding 3 years, the work undertaken by the Care Review to ‘Follow the Money’ showed that there are significant amounts of money already in the ‘care system’. The parallel work to listen to children, young people and care experienced adults about how it felt to live in the ‘care system’ showed that they were all too aware of being treated as a commodity and having a monetary value attached to them feeling safe, secure and cared for. Children spoke of their lives feeling “like a business”, and of feeling that their circumstances were being used to profit from (Evidence Framework, p.55; p.296).

Children and families also spoke of the impact ‘system’ workarounds had on their lives; from placements hundreds of miles from home and siblings as there was nothing else available, to being ‘placed’ in settings that could not meet their needs because the support they needed had no space. In February 2020, based on the stories and experiences of thousands of children, young people, families, care experienced adults and the paid and unpaid workforce, the Independent Care Review concluded that the ‘care system’ in Scotland was “fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling” (the promise, p.8).

Based on the evidence given by 120 providers and local authorities, and the experiences of wider stakeholders, including governments and regulators, the Competition and Markets Authority’s Interim Report published on 22 October concludes that the prices and profits within the ‘care system’ across England, Scotland and Wales are not what they would expect to see in a “well-functioning market”. The concerns of ‘placement’ shortages and high prices that led to the commissioning of the CMA study have borne out in the evidence that was heard.

Their report again shines a light on the toxic practice of long distance and cross border placements. Unfortunately,  it appears that over the past year Scottish care providers have accepted more and more children from  Local Authorities outside Scotland.

Whilst the language used is different, these conclusions are the same – the ‘system’ is failing the children and young people it is supposed to protect and care for.

Ultimately, the CMA builds a strong case for change, particularly in scrutiny and regulatory spaces, but concludes that it is not within its remit to make decisions about profit. In making the promise in February 2020 by accepting the conclusions of the Care Review in full, and in April 2021 by establishing The Promise Scotland as an independent organisation to drive change, Scotland has done the opposite; it is firmly within Scotland’s remit to make decisions on money and profit. And the time for action is now.

For Scotland to keep the promise it made to its children and families, by 2030 at the latest, it must transform the market spoken of by the CMA and the ‘care system’ described by the Independent Care Review, into a unique place that offers children the support they need to grow up loved, safe and respected - always. Central to this is an expansive and strategic planning process that ensures children’s care is not profited from and is regulated and scrutinized based on the outcomes and experiences of those it cares for:

Plan 21-24, p.17

To get there, Scotland needs to focus on the actions outlined within Plan 21-24 , working its way through the principles of the promise to ensure there are the right kinds of homes and supports available for children where they need them, when they need them and for however long they need them so that they can realise their full potential.

The CMA’s Interim Report is welcome in reinforcing  the conclusions reached by the Independent Care Review and the work underway by The Promise Scotland. So too is their expectation that their recommendations will feed into implementation of the promise in Scotland, particularly including the commitments to remove profit-making from children’s care.

The Care Inspectorate and Ofsted are making a start on implementing the promise to end the practice of moving children from England to Scotland and making sure that those who are here have active support to return home or to a safe home nearer trusted friends or family. Specific actions and progress need to be heard from this work soon. The Promise Scotland will be working with the Scottish Government and CoSLA on practical measures to promote early intervention and prevention building on the £500m Family Wellbeing Fund. It will say more about this in the next few weeks.  The picture painted by the promise and the CMA interim report must not remain the reality for much longer.