The children’s home I work in now charges £2995 per child per week. It seems like a lot of money I guess. I am back working for the same children’s home where I started my career in children’s social care in 2004. At that time the cost of a placement was £2995 per week. They have not been able to put up their fees in 12 years. Allowing for inflation the equivilent amount today would be £4230.
Imagine if schools and hospitals had not been given budget increases for 12 years. There would rightly be an outrage. I guess most people don’t use children’s homes and those that do don’t vote.
Why does this matter?
Well…in order for these children to recover from their traumatic early years experiences (and so the state does not continue to traumatise them) they need good experiences. And good experiences cost money. If you doubt this then think of things you have enjoyed in the past seven days. How many of them were completely free? Honestly?
Now, of course, a child does not need a top of the range Iphone to recover from trauma. But if he has a twenty quid Tesco phone and all his friends have smart phones? Well a kid who already feels wretched about himself will feel exposed, humiliated and worthless. A traumatised child does not need a two week all-inclusive holiday to Barbados. But if he can have some good days out and and a few holidays in places other than second rate caravan parks in Dorset – well then his soul may be lifted, it may open his mind and give him a sense of possibility.
Because we have not been able to put up fees, the food budget is exactly the same as it was 12 years ago. This means we can afford to buy less food and the food we do buy is poorer quality. The kids do not starve but we can’t afford many extras. When a child who has been negelected, and gone hungry in the past, opens a fridge and there is not much in it he or she will feel frightened and panic. They may kick-off, assault a staff member or run away – and no one will understand why.
Of course, the good experiences the children most need are stable placements where they are cared for by intelligent, compassionate, well- trained, consistent adults who have time for them. It’s a bit tricky to recruit those staff if the local Lidl pays better. It’s certainly difficult to hang on to them. We can afford one less staff member per day than we had 12 years ago and we have one extra child because an office was converted into an extra bedroom to increase revenue. So we have less time – the most valuable thing we can give these children.
It is, of course, a massive false economy. Invest in these kids now and save money on crime, prisons, benefits, mental health services, the homeless, and more kids ending up in care, later.
But there is another reason to give them good experiences. The most important one. It is not about economics, it is not even about helping these children recover. It is this:
Many children in care will not go on to have the kinds of lives we would wish for them. The damage caused in their early years will not be fixed entirely however hard we try and however much we spend. Many will go on to have wretched and dysfunctional lives. But that doesn’t make it less important that we give them good experiences now. It means it is essential – they might be the only ones they get.