The Dfe (Department for Education) distributed a press release vowing to improve the use of residential placements for looked after children. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/councils-told-to-stop-housing-vulnerable-children-miles-away-from-home?utm_content=bufferd5bf7&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer
The release states in part:
Announcing the changes, Edward Timpson said:
“It’s totally unacceptable for local authorities to routinely place children miles away from their homes for no good reason. Far too often an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture prevails, and I’m determined to tackle it.
“In future, only senior council officials in charge of children’s services will be able to place children out of area and only when they judge it to be the right decision for a child to be moved away from their home area. There will be one individual in each local authority who is directly accountable for these decisions.
“I’m also removing the secrecy around residential care by putting more information in the public domain than ever before on the location and quality of homes and working with Ofsted to improve inspection. There is still more work to be done, and I expect councils and care homes to rise to the challenge.”
I agree with the Miniters in certain respects. I think there is an over use of out of borough placements but I think this needs to be responded to on several fronts. I think:
1 – there needs to be greater support for local foster carers. There is a financial incentive to care but this unfortunately can sometimes get the wrong type of people approved. There needs to be immediate intensive support for carers taking on children just coming into care to ensure they are helping the children to cope with the change/transition they are experience. I feel this would reduce the amount of moves as well as start to address those behaviours that lead to breakdown before they become unamanageable. For those children who have been in the care system for a while and are exhibiting behaviours that are making placements difficult, there needs to be extensive support provided to the carers, or local authorities and fostering agencies needs to have a pool of “special rate carers” – carers that are paid extra to support children with behavioural, learning difficulties, mental health issues etc. With the financial incentive should come increased supervision, increased training and respite. It should be a complete package. I think these particular carers should have a more stringent assessment process because what we are asking them to do will require the normal skill set required by a foster carer as well as more time and involvement.
2 – I think the demographic of local authorities needs to be considered. There are high concentration of carers in certain areas and minimal in others. This may not be down to the local authorities efforts to recruit. It may have to do with the make up of the area. This needs to be considered because it may mean a local authority has no choice but to go outside. Of course, every effort should be made to place the child as close as possible to the local authority to ensure, where appropriate, they can remain connected to family and friends.
3 – Social Workers and managers need to get much better at explaining the reasons and providing evidence for placing children and young people outside of the borough. Sometimes this is a very valid and needed decision; especially in instances of gang involvement, exploitation, dangerous families, lack of placements, etc. There are a number of reasons why it may be appropriate to place a child or young person outside of the borough. But this will need to be explained in full and evidenced by professionals. As a Social Worker and a former manager, I find it completely unacceptable to get a request that is not evidenced and other professionals are upset because they are no getting the response they are seeking. Our responses need to be based on the need of the child or young person, first and foremost. So our professional judgement needs to be robust enough to withstand scrutiny; and sometimes will go against what the child or young person would want for themselves. We are still the adults. We are still the professionals.
4 – Robust and appropriate residential facilities need to be developed locally. We cannot ignore the fact that foster care will not be appropriate for every child or young person. We need to account for the fact that some children will benefit more from a residential placment. This does not have to be severely restrictive and it is possible to have placements that operate at different levels to benefit the needs of the children and young people they house. I think the government needs to offer some incentive for locally developed facilities (if they haven’t already) so that where such services are needed they can be offered within the borough. I think there needs to be a gap analysis done by local authorities looking at the number of children and young people they have in out of borough residential facilities and how many of those that are appropriate to bring back into the local authority. If the response is such that it is warranted, a tender should be put out for the service. If it is found that there is a small proportion of children in residential facilities or that the majority of those placed in these out of borough facilities are not appropriate to return to the local authority there should be a joined up response with neighboring boroughs to reduce a cost.
It does appear that things are heading in the right direction. The release goes on to state:
We are also:
•introducing rules so homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area
•changing the regulations so new homes only open in safe areas, run by competent providers and ensuring homes already open in less safe areas evidence that they can keep children safe, or face closure
•improving the quality of care by requiring staff and managers in homes to be suitably qualified within a strict time frame
•working with Ofsted to strengthen their inspection and intervention powers so ‘good’ is the only acceptable standard, and unsafe homes close unless they can evidence swift improvement
•putting much greater information on the quality and location of children’s homes into the public domain – this autumn we published an extended data pack to improve accountability and drive improvements by sharing best practice.
I would like to see this change managed well because it could be a great service provided to looked after children and go a long way to improve their outcomes. I am seeing changes happening with Minister Timpson and hope they continue for the better.