The Commons Select Committee on Education has recently published its report on residential children’s homes, following the UK government’s announcements about reform of children’s homes and their regulation, made in June of last year. The Committee believes the reform programme will improve and strengthen children’s residential care, but CareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy has a number of remaining concerns about the sector:
The reform programme was triggered by a number of factors, including revelations about poor standards of oversight in some children’s homes, the evidence and link to child sexual exploitation centred on children’s homes, and the problems associated with out-of-area placements, as well as the clustering of children’s homes in certain areas.
Briefly, the reform programme is intended to:
• Introduce rules so homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area;
• Change regulations so new homes only open in safe areas, run by competent providers;
• Ensure that homes already open in less safe areas evidence they can keep children safe, or face closure;
• Improve the quality of care by requiring staff and managers in homes to be suitably qualified within a strict time frame;
• Strengthen Ofsted’s inspection and intervention powers so ‘good’ is the only acceptable standard, and unsafe homes close unless they can evidence swift improvement
• Put much greater information on the quality and location of children’s homes into the public domain.
The Select Committee’s concerns focus on the need for government to consider the whole of the child care system rather than looking at individual aspects in isolation. It says the government needs to look across the different types of care and take account of the child's journey before, during and after care.
It says that placement stability can only be sustained by taking a whole system approach to care which addresses the factors that lead to placement instability and breakdown – and that has to be addressed in a wider programme of reform.
These are points that we have made in a number of our briefings and blogs, and I think the fault-lines to which the Committee draws attention can also be seen in the government’s somewhat lop-sided interest in adoption.
The Committee also says that there is a need for better assessment processes across the child care system and that that such improvements would lead to better outcomes for children, and a more effective overall strategy. It encourages government to take a lead on that issue.
The Committee’s report points to the benefits of joined-up working in children’s care which it believes have not been fully recognised. However, I think the key areas the Committee comments on are: the importance of the staff working in residential care, and the absolute need to reduce out-of-area placements to the bare minimum.
Both of these issues would, at other less fractious times, have been seen as indicative of a national scandal. But, in truth, they hardly seem to have surfaced with the public – and when they do, they quickly fade from view.
Let’s hope the Committee report has more of an impact, and that the current reform programme really delivers. To have our most vulnerable children cared for in a system that places them in risky environments miles away from their homes shows the need for proper national monitoring and control.
And, although the staffing of children’s homes has been a long-running concern, it seems beyond sad that we’ve still got a national system that leaves workers exposed and unsupported. The further implication of this is that it leaves England without the national workforce planning and development approach necessary to ensure improvement.