Children England responds to the final report of the Competition and Markets Authority (published 10th March 2022) in their study of the children's social care market.


  • We welcome this report as a very thorough analysis, with a consistent focus on the failures of current approaches to meet children’s needs and protection
  • We welcome the clear and directed recommendations underlining that decisive policy-making is needed by elected governments to tackle the many problems and risks identified by the CMA
  • We do not believe that the measures suggested to support forecasting can ever achieve the level of accuracy required in a functioning market: children's individual needs and the needs of the child population change in response to complex factors and the role of commissioning is to be able to respond flexibly
  • We have long called for a market oversight body as a key requirement of taking the problems of the marketplace in hand, and anticipating the risks of care companies failing, with all the consequences that could have for children, and hope the Care Review will listen and learn from all of the CMA’s recommendations
  • The next step now must be for those with a wider purview than the CMA - the Care Review and the government - to heed this picture of fatal flaws in the care market and transition away from the market in favour of a child-centred system

Huge attention is given to improving ‘forecasting’ of levels of need for care, and shaping the market to meet those forecasts. We don’t doubt that the mismatch between capacity and need is a major problem, but predicting the need for care is not like predicting the weather. Taking a child into care is a professional decision reached in each child’s unique circumstances, and is a decision that everyone involved is rightly trying to avoid, and wary of making in haste or to a formula. Future levels of need for care could certainly be more honestly and generously prepared for, but it is not a demand for a product of the kind the CMA will be more than familiar with in commercial markets.

A continuous refrain in the CMA’s analysis of the failures in today’s placement market is reference to what would happen "if this market were functioning well…..". It is not considered, however, that this particular market can never function well, because of its inherent market structure as a monopsony. We do not believe this market can be made to function well as a market, let alone as a system for ensuring the best care for all children. As the CMA repeatedly reminds us, a policy decision to move away from the market altogether is beyond their remit, and we understand that. But we can’t allow this long-awaited moment to pass without urging the Care Review to be bolder than the CMA is able to be, and to chart a wholesale policy direction away from competitive markets altogether.

Further reading