National strategy? Professional Registration? Care Review?
The ongoing concerns about the lack of suitable care placements for vulnerable children – particularly children’s homes placements -has been a serious concern for some time. Providers have been actively opening new homes but Ofsted report that a national oversight and strategic leadership is needed to address the sufficiency and capability within the sector.
A key indicator of the lack of suitable placements has been the rise of 16 or 17 year olds placed in unregulated settings (usually semi independent accommodation. This figure has risen from 2,900 in 2009 to 6,100 in 2019. This has prompted the government to propose that the use of these placements are banned for under 16’s. We know that the care system faces a number of challenges in finding appropriate placements for children as starkly outlined by Judge Dancey. He outlined the case of Child A to highlight the resource issues that local authorities face looking after young vulnerable people at risk of harm. For Child A the consequences have been no residential placement or any sense of permanence or stability; 10 placements over the course of a year, all bar two of them unregulated, and lasting from a few months to a few days and no formal education.
These issues have given renewed strength to the demands for the care review promised in the Conservative manifesto to be undertaken without delay. An online petition has gained momentum and the DfE are assembling their team to take this forward . The terms of this review is unclear but we remember that the aim of the Residential Care Leadership Board formed in 2017 after the Narey review into Residential Care was to “ drive change in the sector, working closely with local areas and stakeholders to ensure there is a shared improvement agenda that is owned and driven by the sector as a whole”. We know that the aim of the National Stability Board that the RCLB merged with was to “ provide the department and government with crucial advice and leadership at national and local level to promote stability, better life chances and outcomes for children in the care of the state”. It may be helpful for the government to review why these initiatives have failed. This may help to ensure future reviews actually result in actions that meaningfully impact children’s lives.
It is important to contribute to consultations and reviews so please take the time to do so. Whilst the system is being tinkered with our absolute focus must be on the children in our care right now. Despite some of the negative messages about children’s homes, 82% of children’s homes were rated good and outstanding last year. The recent Ofsted commentary looks at a sample of homes that have maintained their good or outstanding ratings over the last 5 years. The culture of the home and strong leadership were critical to their success and is an encouragement to all homes that despite a system that is perceived to be failing, great outcomes can be achieved.