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Providing the best possible care for vulnerable looked after children at heart of competitive tendering exercise

Friday, 16 January 2015
  • Rates of children being fostered have increased from 29% to 64%
  • 50% reduction in demand for residential care places will save £5.9 million
  • 38 jobs affected but 21 opportunities ring-fenced 

Providing the best possible care for looked after children is the overriding objective of the recent competitive tendering exercise for residential care services for children, says Health and Social Care Minister Howard Quayle MHK. 

The Minister’s comments follow a briefing to Members of Tynwald last week on Government’s decision to award the contract to St Christopher’s Isle of Man with effect from 1 February 2015.  This was after they submitted the strongest overall bid in terms of quality and value for money. St Christopher’s has been providing these services in conjunction with The Children’s Centre since 2004. 

Significant increase in fostering
The Minister said:

'The Isle of Man Government – on behalf of the community – is the corporate parent for almost 100 children in care.  These children are undoubtedly some of the most vulnerable on our Island.  Each and every one is entitled to the best possible opportunities in life and we have a duty to ensure that we do everything in our power to achieve this in order to help them thrive.' 

Research shows that the best outcomes for looked after children are usually achieved when they are raised and cared for in a nurturing family environment.  The Island has many dedicated and highly professional individuals providing excellent residential care for children, and such professionals will always be needed to support a small number of children.  However Government is committed to increasing the levels of adoption and fostering, which are better suited to providing a family environment. 

The Minister continued:

'I am delighted to say that our initiatives to increase adoption and fostering have been successful, thanks to our partnership with Fostering First at The Children’s Centre.  Over the past decade the numbers of looked after children being fostered has increased from 29% to 64%.  In real terms, based on the current number of children in care, this means that over 60 children now benefit from the care of a loving foster home as opposed to being in a residential care home. 

Mindful of the contracts due to expire in January 2015 the Department began a competitive tender process in May 2014.  For the first time the Department was explicit in determining the types of service it wanted, the quality expected, the capacity required and the outcomes to be achieved for children and young people. 

The Department, in conjunction with Treasury’s Procurement Services Division, is taking a professional and objective approach to tendering for health and social care services.  This ensures a rigorous process that selects the best possible provider in terms of quality, outcomes for service users and value for money for the taxpayer. 

The Minister said:

'Thirteen organisations expressed an interest and of those which went on to submit a bid, St Christopher’s came out decisively as the best provider.' 

Reduction in residential care places to save £5.9 million
This significant increase in fostering on the Island has meant that the provision of residential care places for children can be significantly reduced.  Numbers will reduce from 51 places plus six emergency beds across 13 properties, to 29 places plus five emergency beds across eight properties.  Although the increase in fostering results in better outcomes for children, the reduction in care home places does mean that less properties will be required and therefore less staff. 

Reductions began late in 2013 with the closure of a home operated by The Children’s Centre followed by the closure of a home operated by St Christopher’s in late 2014.  Further homes are to close across both current providers, ensuring that the only best quality properties are retained, regardless of who operates them.  The move will generate savings of £5.9 million over three years, which the Department can retain to fund other health and social care services. 

The Department has been able to achieve a significant cost saving whilst enhancing quality and outcomes as well as providing a new wraparound service – within existing budgets – to provide additional emotional support for looked after children. 

Ring-fenced jobs
The Minister added:

'In a competitive tendering process there will always be winners and losers.  I would like to extend my thanks to the staff of The Children’s Centre for their service over the past decade, and for their work in expanding fostering, which continues.  The Centre retains a number of Government contracts worth £2.2 million and I hope that the feedback provided from this tender process will assist with any future bids. 

'Given the reduction of almost 50% in the number of residential care places required, some job losses were inevitable.  This is unfortunate but we must focus on the positives, namely the fact that this reduction comes from more children being in foster care, which is much better for them and more cost effective for the taxpayer.  

'Officers from the Department have met with colleagues from The Children’s Centre who have confirmed that 38 employees will be affected by the loss of the contract.  Twenty-one posts have been ring-fenced for Children’s Centre employees affected, either within St Christopher’s or within the Department. 

Stability for affected children
The Minister concluded:

'It is regrettable that the outcome of the tender process has been aired in the media ahead of a formal and managed announcement.  This has caused unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty for a number of children whose care arrangements may change slightly, not to mention for the staff affected.  I feel it is important that we move to bring some certainty and stability to these children by progressing with the transition of care in an orderly fashion'

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