The number of children in our care system continues to soar. As highlighted today by the National Audit Office, last year 68,110 children were looked after by local authorities in England, representing an eye watering cost of £2.5 billion per year to the taxpayer. That compares to 59,400 in care in 2008.
This does not represent the expansion of an efficient and effective system. Earlier this year, the NSPCC reported that child protection services are buckling under the pressure of increased demand. There is an estimated shortfall of 9,000 foster carers in the UK. It is well documented that children taken into care continue to suffer disproportionately from poor outcomes, such as homelessness, unemployment and prostitution.
Yet, as the CSJ recently argued, there is another way for the state to provide the stability some young people desperately need.
Research has shown that the wrap-around support provided by state boarding schools can dramatically improve young people’s welfare, building their social skills, self-esteem, and coping ability. At the same time, this solution can give parents breathing space, potentially reducing the need for further state intervention.
Boarding schools have the potential to unlock a brighter future than the care system can for many of our most vulnerable children. The Royal National Children’s Foundation studied outcomes for 11-17 year old boarders; 70 per cent of whom had been diagnosed with severe emotional problems. After three or more years, 85 per cent were achieving better grades than the average for a child of their age. In contrast, children in care tend to underperform; only 15 per cent achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths.
Currently, there are just a few dozen state boarding schools across the country, and about 5,000 boarders. Each place typically costs about £10,000 per year per child, significantly less than the £40,000 annual cost to support a child in care.
To improve outcomes for young people and prevent further strain on the care system, the argument for expanding state boarding school places is becoming increasingly clear.