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Criminal Care? · 26 Jul 2018

Buzzfeed investigation into Cambian care homes

Earlier today an investigation into Cambian care homes was published by Buzzfeed News.

Buzzfeed’s investigation finds that Britain’s largest provider of private children’s homes paid its chief executive more than £9 million in a single year – while the young people in its care suffer violent assaults and live in decrepit conditions.

The story paints the picture of a publicly-traded, private equity-backed company cutting costs at the expense of children. Young people in Cambian homes have been attacked, threatened and arrested. Poor home environments and beleaguered staff using excessive physical restraint are also described.

One-quarter of Cambian homes in England have been graded as “inadequate” or “requires improvement” by Ofsted.

Children are actively at risk of being criminalised in such conditions

The investigation raises disturbing allegations and supports concerns we highlighted in the briefing we published last week, around the performance of homes run by the largest private companies. Certainly the chaotic environments described in this investigation would not be conducive to protecting children from police involvement – on the contrary, the Howard League would be concerned that children are actively at risk of being criminalised in such conditions.

As we argue in our briefing, private companies such as Cambian have a responsibility to put their duties to the vulnerable children in their care above their shareholders and profit margins. The local authorities who commission these companies should be routinely asking for balance sheets and financial information, in order to ascertain just how much money is actually being spent on caring for their children.

Reading the Buzzfeed story reminded me of a conversation we had with one director of children’s services, who described a “Wild West” market in residential care. The Cambian allegations aside, understanding how market forces can lead to perverse outcomes and increase the likelihood of children being criminalised is something we will explore in more depth in due course.

Andrew Neilson

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