Outsourced children’s care homes provide poorer quality care

For-profit children’s homes provide poorer quality services for children in care than homes run by Local Authorities, according to research from the University of Oxford’s Department for Social Policy and Intervention. Based on the use of Ofsted ratings, the research has been published in Social Science and Medicine.

Outsourcing and for-profit provision have become a dominant practice in the children’s residential social care sector in England but, the researchers note, there is a critical absence of evidence of the impact this has had on the quality of these services – and the experience of children in care. This research reveals for-profit children’s homes, on average, receive worse Ofsted ratings than Local Authority homes in all inspection domains. It also showed Local Authorities with higher levels of outsourcing to for-profits are also rated worse for their children social care services, and that for-profit homes violate more legal requirements of their care provision.

The researchers created a dataset from more than 13,000 Ofsted inspections of children’s homes, the providers being inspected by Ofsted, the area of operation and a measure of deprivation of that area, spanning from 2014 to 2021.


Regardless of the validity of the arguments for and against the appropriateness of outsourcing, the for-profit sector is, in its current form, an inseparable part of the children’s residential social care sector. Although this development was implemented based on assumptions about market conditions that are rarely met in practice, the for-profit sector has nonetheless grown to become the largest form of residential children’s social care provision. Our analysis shows that the outsourcing of these services has not delivered as promised in terms of securing high service quality for children in care. While this is of significant concern given the focus of these services on society’s most vulnerable service users, caution is needed in terms of regulating the sector going forward. Many of the problems faced by LAs are exacerbated by a lack of appropriate places, and the role of FP providers cannot be replaced without substantial coordination and long-term planning. The results of this paper suggest nevertheless that ownership should be considered as part of future planning of children’s social care.

The full paper, ‘Outsourcing and children’s social care: A longitudinal analysis of inspection outcomes among English children’s homes and local authorities’, is published here

Oxford study | University of Oxford Source: Outsourced children’s care homes provide poorer quality care – Oxford study | University of Oxford

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