Council desperately seeks homes for teens in Luton - with agencies charging 'two or three times' amount of normal foster carers
Luton Borough Council is desperately seeking homes for teenagers, with independent foster agencies charging two or three times the amount of normal foster carers.
The council is making its own plans to provide accommodation for homeless children aged over 16, having failed to secure a combined approach with neighbouring local authorities.
The borough council usually strives to “jointly commission” children's housing arrangements with Central Beds, Bedford Borough and Herts councils, a children’s services review meeting heard this week.
For children aged under 16, the council is still working with its neighbours to find homes among independent fostering agencies, which they purchase at a considerable cost.
“Children’s placements are a very pressured and a very competitive market, and is much more expensive,” explained Gerard Jones, Luton Borough Council’s interim service director for quality, improvement and practice innovation.
"It’s two or three times more than placements we provide from our own foster carers.
“We are going out to the market to negotiate with our neighbours in a joint arrangement to procure agency foster carer placements for our children in care.”
He told the review group it is important that the council gets value for money and provides good quality placements.
“Hertfordshire is a very big council,” he added. “It makes its own decisions. Wherever possible we’ve tried to work with our neighbours.
“Where that doesn’t happen, we have to forge ahead in Luton so we have got the accommodation we need.
“We are the ones buying. It’s the market that’s selling, but because of the lack of suitable housing the costs can be quite high.
“We are working to improve our fostering offer, so Luton children get an offer of a Luton foster carer.
“We have ambitious plans to increase our percentage of in-house foster care placements in Luton, but we may never reach 100 per cent.
“We will probably always want some ability to use agencies for particular children’s needs and arrange it through a contract.
“It is a shame. It’s one of pressures on this council’s budget.”
There are currently 41 young people in this specialist provision, said Mr Jones.
“The needs of those young people are higher than before. We see increasing problems to do with mental health and the impact of difficult home circumstances on their lives.”
Labour Farley councillor Mahmood Hussain said: “With Hertfordshire we have had some success in achieving a very small number of residential places.
“With the other two, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire, we haven’t made any progress.
“With the three authorities together we have a better chance of commissioning services. There is a political agenda somewhere else.”
Labour Limbury councillor Rob Roche said: “Central Bedfordshire Council has always been quite selfish, in fairness. They don’t normally like working with Luton. We’ve found it quite difficult.”
The council’s corporate director people Amanda Lewis replied: “From an operational and strategic perspective we are absolutely all committed and working effectively together.
“Whatever the challenges may have been politically our children don’t know boundaries. Our arrangements are really positive.”