12 Feb 2019
Children’s homes do not get enough recognition for the
vital work that they do, and, whilst it’s true that the majority of the
75,000 children and young people in our care live with foster carers, or
their extended family, for 6,000 or so of this number a residential
placement really is the best fit. This can help children to regulate
their own risk-taking behaviour by offering them valuable time and space
to address earlier trauma or their difficulties in making attachments
as part of a long-term care plan.
The best homes share some key features: a stable and dedicated team
of staff led by an experienced registered manager; the relationships
between children and staff are trusting and respectful; and, staff work
in partnership with social workers and other professionals to provide
stability and improve children’s outcomes. This work is demanding but it
is also rewarding. The complex and often overlapping health and social
care needs of children in residential placements underlines the need
for staff to be trained to a high minimum standard, equipped with
specialist skills and have support in place to build their resilience.
In some countries residential care is provided by qualified
psychologists, I’m not sure that’s needed here, to my mind it’s more
important that staff consistently stick with a child through thick and
thin, recognising the impact that bereavement or neglect can have on
behavioural presentation. A move to improve the status of the
children’s residential sector and everyone working in this field is long
overdue. The introduction of new children’s home regulations and
standards a few years ago attempted to do this but the government’s
skills targets have not yet been met, with only half of staff holding at
least a level three qualification (equivalent to an A Level) in
2017/18, according to recent Ofsted data.
Hot on the heels of the news that a multi-million pound merger
between two large social care providers is being investigated by the
competition watchdog, Ofsted’s latest annual report offered a
fascinating insight into a sector that is in the midst of a profound
change. 77 new children’s homes opened in the last year, the majority
of which were brought forward by large providers. The total number of
children’s homes in England is at a record high yet the proportion of
local authority owned children’s homes fell further still and almost a
third no longer own any homes at all.
This new reality underlines the importance of effective strategic
commissioning in order to help children to lead happy and successful
lives. A placement shouldn’t be treated as a positive outcome in itself.
We need to be clear about the progress and impact we expect and manage
performance in this regard.
We no longer hold the levers of power in
the sense of running our own homes but we shouldn’t accept anything less
than the best for the children in our care. I also wonder if the time
hasn’t come to begin to address the for-profit motive in providing care
for our children?
Stuart Gallimore is the ADCS President 2018/19 and Director of Children’s Services at East Sussex Council.
This column was first published in CYP Now on 29 January 2019 www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/partner-content/2006304/residential-care-policy-context