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5.1.2 Securing Sufficiency for Looked After Children


Sufficiency: Statutory Guidance on Securing Sufficient Accommodation for Looked After Children (DCSF 2010)


In August 2016, this chapter was extensively updated and should be read throughout.


  1. Introduction
  2. Current Need and Projected Future Need
  3. Provision
  4. Commissioned Placements
  5. Leaving Care Provision
  6. Edge of Care Provision
  7. Exit Strategies
  8. Adoption

    See also

    Joint Housing and Social Care Protocol for Care Leavers Making a Planned Move on Reaching 18

    Joint Housing and Social Care Protocol for Eligible, Relevant and Former Relevant Children

    Joint Housing and Social Care Protocol for Homeless 16 & 17 Year Olds

1. Introduction

This protocol sets out the strategy in relation to how Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council will ensure sufficiency of accommodation for looked after young people requiring accommodation.

Section 22G of the Children Act 1989 requires local authorities to take strategic action in respect of those children they look after and for whom it would be consistent with their welfare for them to be provided with accommodation within their local authority area. The requirement is to ensure sufficient and appropriate accommodation is available. This accommodation may be required for any young person of any age, ethnicity and a whole range of specific needs so a wide range of options need to be available.

The local authority will work with local partner agencies and regional local authority neighbours to ensure this need is met and that these young people receive the support that they need. Partners have obligations under the Children Act 2004 section 10 in relation to improving the outcomes for children in the local area. The Sufficiency Statutory Guidance 2010 relates this section of the Act to the need for partners to play their part in making these arrangements.

Securing sufficiency on provision of placements means “having the right placement in the right place at the right time” (Sufficiency Guidance 1.7). It also however, suggests that it is appropriate to think more broadly than children that become Looked After and include those on the edge of care and custody and those leaving care. Therefore this protocol will also comment upon preventative services and leaving care provision.

Local Authority Duties with Regard to Looked After children

Section 17(1) of the 1989 Act provides that it is the general duty of a local authority to provide a range and level of services to Children in Need (as defined in section 17(10) of the 1989 Act) and their families in the local area which are appropriate to their needs:

  • Section 20 of that Act requires local authorities to provide accommodation for children in need within their area who appear to them to require accommodation in accordance with the provisions of that section 6;
  • Section 21 requires a local authority to accommodate certain children who are either removed or kept away from home under Part V of the 1989 Act or who are subject to a criminal court order;
  • Section 22C (5) requires local authorities to place children in the most appropriate placement available. In determining the most appropriate placement for a child, section 22C (7) requires local authorities to take into account a number of factors (such as the duties to safeguard and promote welfare; promote educational achievement; ascertain the wishes of the child and family; and give due consideration to religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural background);
  • In determining the most appropriate placement for a child, section 22C (7)(a) also requires the local authority to give preference to a placement with a relative, friend or other person connected with the child and who is also a local authority foster parent;
  • Section 22C sets out the additional factors (in no order of priority) which the local authority must take into consideration when deciding the most appropriate placement:
    • Allowing the child to live near his/her home;
    • Not disrupting the child’s education or training;
    • Enabling the child and a looked after sibling to live together;
    • Meeting the particular needs of Disabled Children; and
    • Providing accommodation within the local authority’s area, unless that is not reasonably practicable.
  • Section 23 (1)(a) requires a local authority to provide accommodation for a child who is in their care.

2. Current Need and Projected Future Need

The following is an analysis of the Looked After population of Blackburn with Darwen. Knowing the need is critical to planning and ensuring sufficiency.

In April 2010 a significant analysis of the 'in care' population took place. It compared previous years' data and current data and included those coming into care and those exiting care.

This analysis has been the basis for being in a much better position to ensure sufficient accommodation is and will be available over the next five years.

It is clearly however, a potentially changing picture, as numbers of children coming into care can be affected by a variety of external and sometimes unpredictable factors.

In Autumn 2011 a further analysis took place predicting that numbers in care would stabilise at around 370.

In 2014, the picture reflected the accuracy of those predictions. A subsequent prediction (based on the departments strategy to improve the assessment of families early on in the child’s life so that permanence plans can be secured for those children whose families cannot achieve sustainable change) relating to the period 2013 – 2016 and predicted that numbers of looked after children will reduce gradually to around 320.

At the end of 2015 numbers in care were 321 and it appeared that predictions were accurate however; this is a fluid situation subject to shifts and changes in policy and issues arising from practise. The situation by 31st March 2016 showed that during the previous financial year numbers in care had begun to rise during the year and were at 346 by end March. Of particular note is the changing age profile of those coming into care in that whilst numbers of younger children have remained reasonably stable numbers of young people aged 11 + have increased significantly (27 in 2014/15 to 51 in 2015/16). In addition more younger children have been made subject to care orders but remain placed with parents and this trend has largely been driven by the courts.

Current predictions are that whilst numbers may stabilise around the 350 mark over the coming year, the current trends are likely to continue for some time. A piece of work is being undertaken with regards to understating the higher numbers of teenagers coming into care with a view to devising a further strategy to reduce this number with the use of preventative and early support services. Early suggestions include the fact that child sexual exploitation and children at risk of radicalisation have been the focus of government scrutiny and expectations of social care services have increased in these areas. These areas impact largely on over 11’s.

There has been an increasing use of early permanence type placements such as concurrent placements and fostering for adoption placements. This is positive in that where it is likely that young children will not be able to return to birth family they can be placed with permanent carers from the outset removing the need to changes of placement. Concurrent carers are commissioned as part of a regional commission from one of the local voluntary adoption agencies.

2.1 Key Facts:

Comparison of the make-up of the in-care population now goes back over 10 years. This analysis enables predictions to be made in relation to the volume of carers required for children in each age range.

This data below informs our recruitment and commissioning strategies.

2.2 Current Cohort in Care

Of the current cohort in care,79 are aged 0 - 4. This is a significant reduction on last year’s figure of 106. It is envisaged that they will require short term foster placements and will exit care either by returning to parents or achieving legal permanence with family members or through adoption. A further 65 children are aged 5 - 8 years, a similar figure to last year. Again many of these children will exit the care system through either a return home or through the making of legally permanent orders.

There are 120 children aged 9 - 15. This age group are more likely to come into care and remain there long term therefore will require longer term placements. It is this age group that tend to present the greater problems for carers and demand higher cost and more highly supportive placements.

2.3 Summary

Based on the above five trends seem important:

  • The general increase in numbers of children in care;
  • The increasing number of teenagers in care and reduced numbers of younger children in care;
  • The changes in court practise;
  • The increasing use of early permanence options such as concurrency and fostering for adoption;
  • Possible influx of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

The above trends in sum would suggest a shift in the age profile of children in care and coming into care towards an older age group.

Basically, all analysis suggests a need to focus recruitment activity on:

  • Need for more adopters and adoption placements for harder to place children including fostering for adoption carers;
  • A need for foster carers for those aged 8 and over with more challenging issues;
  • Further develop support and training for foster carers to enable them to care more adequately for young people as they become older;
  • Need to recruit mother and baby foster placements in accordance with the courts preference to keep children with parents at the outset of proceedings whilst risks are further assessed;
  • Recruit a range of carers able to take unaccompanied asylum seekers from 0 – 18 years old;
  • Recruit a small number of foster carers for disabled children.

3. Provision

3.1 Foster care

A target was set of 35 new foster care placements by November 2011. This target was achieved. Since then however, recruitment has largely maintained the numbers of carers taking into consideration those who have resigned up until 2014. The numbers of family and friends placements has decreased further in the last year to a current low of around 16. Numbers of mainstream carers has decreased slightly. Recruitment focussed on older children and whilst some success was achieved through this, the numbers retiring were higher than those approved. Currently there is no recruitment of foster carers for babies as there are over 10 vacancies and this has been a consistent picture for the past year or so.

The target for foster carer recruitment in 2015/16 is to focus on the recruitment of long term foster carers, foster carers for older children and unaccompanied asylum seekers, mother and baby foster carers and placements for disabled children.

The recruitment strategy is supported by a now established11+ fostering strategy that provides carers with specialist round the clock support from dedicated workers. A similar service for primary children is also being established.

A Recruitment Strategy (see Fostering Recruitment Strategy) is in place to ensure these targets are met and monitored against.

In addition, a Retention Strategy is also in place (see Fostering Retention Strategy). A real increase in capacity only takes place if carers continue to foster and this will be achieved if they feel supported and well equipped for the job that they do. In addition financial support needs to be adequate. Some challenges relate to the age profile of our foster carers and the fact that some are likely to retire in the near future.

A foster carer training and support plan is in place which includes formal and informal opportunities to take part in training. Experienced carers are also encouraged to become mentors and assist with the support and training of newer carers.

In 2015, the KEEP training programme was delivered to foster carers with the aim of skilling carers to manage more complex behaviours and issues. Staff in the fostering service are trained to deliver this and will continue to do so over the coming year. In addition, nurturing attachments is a further course designed to improve carers’ skills and understanding so that they can care better for children with the additional challenges associated with being in care.

Financial support to foster carers was reviewed in October 2010 and payments to new carers were increased to assist with the Recruitment Strategy. Discretionary payments are also available to enable carers to look after children with specific additional needs. Payments have been increased year on year to maintain the competitive edge.

Competition from the voluntary sector is a factor of foster care recruitment and dissatisfied foster carers always have somewhere else to go. Blackburn with Darwen has not historically lost foster carers to other agencies his has continued to be the trend in 2015/16. There is a trickle of carers who transfer into the Council from agencies for a variety of reasons.

3.2 Residential Care

The Council runs two children’s homes. In 2012 'in house' capacity was increased at individual homes from 4 to 5 in one of the homes and from 5 to 6 in another home. Generally however, they operate at 5 beds and 4 beds respectively and only if matching allows are the additional beds utilised.

The advantage of ‘in house’ provision is that there are close links with health services that provide psychological support to the homes and can link with local CAMHS services as required and that flexible educational provision is available. Clearly the ability to maintain close contact with family members and friends is also a benefit.

The flexibility of the service means that staffing can be adjusted easily from within the network to meet the specific needs of some young people.

The staff group are very stable and have been over a number of years. This enables young people to build strong and positive relationships with the adults around them.

There is a strategic training plan for residential staff to ensure that standards continue to improve.

In the last 2 years r both of the children’s homes staff have been trained in Result.

The Council also runs an adolescent support unit which provides a short break and outreach facility for young people and their families. It aims to support families to resolve their problems and in doing so allow more teenagers to remain at home. The data in recent years suggests a decrease in the numbers of teenagers being accommodated from a high of 47 in 2009/10 to just 19 in 2013/14.

In 2015/16 the Council also established a solo occupancy children’s home alongside an agency Paramount Care. The home is based in local premises and is focussed on meeting the needs of young people with high levels of risk taking behaviours associated with their emotional or mental health. This was set up to meet the needs of an extremely complex young person who spent a considerable period of time in hospital as there was no appropriate placement for her anywhere in the country. Within the last year it supported a young person in a similar situation and successfully moved her into foster care and has a subsequent placement of a young man who also has a history of serious self harming behaviours with a view to him returning to the care of his father.

The advantage of this sort of bespoke service is that local CAMHS services are closely linked in, the support network or the young person in terms of family and friends remain intact and educational provision can be supported and continue beyond placement.

4. Commissioned Placements

(see also Social Care Placement Requests, Commissioned Services and Resource Requests - Panels Process).

Historically, the Council has used relatively few commissioned placements and despite the fact that  the past year has seen an increase in looked after children, it continues to be the case that, in comparison to regional neighbours, numbers are still relatively low in terms of new placements being made. In 2015/16 the low use of commissioned residential placements was maintained however, those placed are notably more complex and requiring high cost and highly supportive placements.

Numbers of children in agency foster care is rising again largely due to the higher numbers of older children being accommodated.

The strategy of the Council has been to focus on providing increasing numbers of high quality ‘in house’ placements to meet additional demand.

There will always be a need to commission some more specialist placements and at times of high and changing demand, some foster care placements too.

There are robust regional processes in place to ensure that when needs arise there is easy and safe access to a range of providers who deliver on quality and economy. Both foster care and residential placements are sourced through a regional database which matches assessed needs of children to available placements within the region and beyond. It also provides information about providers and any issues of concern about providers is shared regionally.

The Council have considered entering into specific commissioning arrangements with certain providers however; future need is so low and unpredictable that this was felt not to be an economical option at this time. This position however, will be kept under review as other authorities do enter into commissioning arrangements and this may make accessing resources more difficult.

Although the numbers in agency foster care are reasonably high at 53, it is worth noting that considerable numbers of these are long term placements. The legacy of significant increases in numbers entering care between 2009 and 2011 led to the use of more agency foster placements. Clearly if young people are happy and settled then it would be inappropriate to consider ending those placements.

The numbers of new agency foster placements made is relatively few (25) and has shown us where our needs are.

4.1 Foster Care

Commissioning of new agency foster care placements continues to be higher than we would like. An 11+ strategy to support carers better was established in 2015/16 and increasing numbers of carers are using this now. It is also hoped that this will assist in recruiting more in house foster carers for older young people.

Robust systems are in place for identifying agency foster placements when the need arises. In comparison to other local authorities Blackburn with Darwen have a good record of securing the lowest possible costs for all commissioned placements and negotiate personally in each case.

We are part of a regional commissioning arrangement whereby fostering providers are rated by quality and cost. An electronic system allows us to notify a number of providers with the child’s details and the requirements of the placement and then agencies notify us of possible placements.

The regional arrangements also ensure that we receive prompt information about placements that cause concern or providers that are given poor Ofsted judgements. This assists us in safeguarding our young people and ensuring that their placements are of the highest quality.

4.2 Residential Care

In 2015/16 the numbers of new agency residential placements made has been low meaning that over all, the numbers in residential care have remained stable over the past year. As of the end of the year there were only 8 commissioned residential placements plus five residential schools for severely autistic children.

There will always be some young people for whom a placement outside of the local area will be required. This can be for safety reasons where young people are placing themselves at risk as a consequence of being missing from home (sexual exploitation, drug use, self harm), or where young people are remanded to reside away from a locality for a period of time. Equally there will always be some young people who need high levels of support that cannot be offered in local facilities. The costs of our commissioned residential placements is on average higher than regionally, however the low numbers suggest that we are commissioning appropriately for only with high levels of need.

The low numbers and the fact specialist nature of what we commission means that commissioning on a case by case basis is currently the most efficient method for the Council.

4.3 Placements for Disabled Children

The council has a residential unit that provides short breaks for Disabled Children. The numbers of Disabled Children requiring new full time residential care packages in a year are very small and the need of those young people is diverse. This makes providing in house provision difficult. The Council has no ‘in house’ long term residential capacity for Disabled Children.

The fostering service has a range of short break carers. Two foster carers have homes adapted for Disabled Children who require wheel chairs.

There is limited availability within the fostering service of carers who can use sign language for example. The infrequent need for this provision however, does mean that these carers likely to take a range of children and may not always have a vacancy when required and in those cases agency placements would be sought.

Long term foster carers for Disabled Children are often specifically recruited and where this is not possible then occasional long term placements have been commissioned. The foster care resource for short and long term placements for disabled children is lacking and this will be q focus of the recruitment strategy.

5. Leaving Care Provision

We currently have 143 Care Leavers; out of these we have 51% living independently.

A variety of accommodation is available to meet the needs of the other 49%.

Of those, 19% are in foster Care/Staying Put.3% with family, 18% in Supported Accommodation, and the other 9% is spilt between Hospital / University / Children's Homes/ prison / other.

Commissioning of placements for care leavers is done through North West Placements and only providers that are registered with them would be used for young people.

In this area there are several accredited providers and any new providers with North West Placements can be tendered.

The vast majority of care leavers however, would access the resources that the council provides or commissions locally for the sole use of our young people. Young people are asked to attend for an interview prior to admission.

Twin Valley Homes offer council properties to all people who reside in Blackburn and Darwen, and Care Leavers are given priority once they reach 18 and are ready to hold a tenancy in their own right.

Private Rented properties are utilised and these are assessed using the Leaving Care Team standards and only passed if they are deemed as suitable.

The leaving care team work closely with the fostering service to allow young people to "Stay Put" post 18 and transfer the placement to a continuing care arrangement. There is also a Supported Lodgings scheme with several registered provides which is monitored and quality assured by the leaving care team. The aim in 2016/17 is to grow this resource.

The Leaving Care Team have set up their own Supported Accommodation at Anchor Avenue (Independence House). This this is a 3 bedded unit to give young people an ideal opportunity to Transition to adulthood with a plan to move on when they are ready.

With regards to the future, the good working relationship with all the providers increases flexibility and it is anticipated that need should be met. Regular reviews inform an action plan to ensure that predicted need will continue to be met.

6. Edge of Care Provision

A significant part of the strategy is ensuring that only children that really need to come into care do so. Preventative services have a primary role to play in this regard.

The Council has a number of preventative / early intervention services.

6.1 Adolescent Support Unit

This is a registered children’s home which is able to provide both outreach and overnight care for teenagers at the edge of coming into care and their families.

A highly skilled staff group work in a variety of ways between 8am and 10pm Tuesday – Thursday and 24 hours for the rest of the week providing over night short breaks for young people.

An annual report is completed and evidences the success of the unit in achieving its aims. It has also been acknowledged as evidence of good practice with regard to preventative services by the DfE.

6.2 Appletrees

This is a registered children’s home which is open 5 nights per week to provide short breaks for Disabled Children. It is fully equipped to meet the needs of the most severely disabled children and young people are matched carefully with equally able children so that appropriate activities can be provided.

There is also the facility to provide an outreach service for some families.

This facility also provides a hub for Disabled Children and their families at which they can seek and access a variety of support services.

Direct payments and short break carers are also utilised when these better suit the child’s needs.

6.3 Short Break Carers

The fostering service delivers a range of short breaks for non-Disabled Children. Carers are trained and supported to work with a variety of children with different needs.

Two carers are fully equipped to care for children requiring the use of wheel chairs.

A few short breaks are commissioned from other providers. These are usually for children with particularly challenging behaviours associated with autism and are often provided at their schools to ensure continuity of care. These are commissioned on a case by case basis due to the small numbers required although this position can be reviewed if demand changes.

6.4 Sitting Service

This enables parents / carers to go out for short periods and know their Disabled Child is cared for appropriately. The service is registered with Care Quality Commission and carers are assessed and trained appropriately in order to meet the needs of whichever child they are matched with.

7. Exit Strategies

Ensuring children leave care as soon as is safely possible also ensures that placement availability is maximised.

Regular monitoring of children’s cases take place through reviews. In addition senior managers track the progress of cases on a weekly basis at a Case Tracking Management Panel. Any drift is identified and action taken to move the care plan on as soon as possible.

Legal permanence for children who cannot return to their families is of primary consideration. Over the last year 30 Adoption Orders were made. This figure, although reduced from the previous year, still represents good performance when compared to national data (national data published in 2015 showed Blackburn with Darwen to be the highest performing council in the country in this regard). The current climate within the courts is such that adoption plans are not favoured as much as in previous years which is reflected in the numbers being adopted. This is a national picture.

For family members and foster carers Special Guardianship Orders are actively encouraged wherever appropriate and a specialist support worker is available to assist in achieving this. 49 special guardianship orders were made in 201 15/16 which is a significant number.

8. Adoption

It is essential that there is a sufficient supply of adopters to meet the needs of children with an Adoption Plan. In a small Borough like Blackburn with Darwen however, it is often not desirable to place children in such close proximity to their birth families.

In order to address this, the Council has a number of strategies in place.

An established relationship exists with other local authorities in the Northwest through Adopt Northwest (a consortium of the 23 authorities in the region). This allows for an exchange of adopters to take place and a shared understanding of the needs of children in other agencies. It is acknowledged that in Blackburn with Darwen some of our adopters will be used by other agencies and in return we will use some of their approved.

Adopter recruitment has slowed down in the past year largely due to fewer children requiring placements and recruitment focussing on harder to place children. Nationally and regionally there are considerable numbers of available adopters for young children providing significant choice for family finders.

There is a shift towards achieving early permanence placements for children who are unlikely to return to parents or family members and a commission with a local voluntary adoption agency ensures there is sufficient supply of concurrent carers for this purpose. We have placed the highest numbers in the region in such placements demonstrating good early planning for children. Some other arrangements exist between a number of smaller local authorities in the region which enables preparation of adopters to happen as efficiently as possible.

Whilst the number of children requiring adoption has reduced nationally and locally, the challenges remain to find families for children with additional needs or in large sibling groups. There is a recruitment strategy in place to ensure that that need is met.