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Residential Care

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 |

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