Many small private children’s homes are operating outside
the law because local authority inspection units have failed to
complete their registrations, writes Rachel
After a long battle to close a dangerous loophole in the law
which allowed children’s homes with three or less places to
avoid inspection, the government amended the Children Act 1989 to
bring them inside the regulatory net.
Local authorities had until the end of February to register all
small homes which pass the inspection, but many have failed to
complete all applications. And the incoming National Care Standards
Commission says it will take at least four months to process what
will be fresh registration applications.
The department of health does not know how many small
children’s homes exist or how many have yet to have their
registration application completed. But independent child care
experts believe that the number of private unregistered homes is
much higher than initially estimated.
The National Association of Independent Resources for Children
estimates that between 30 and 40 per cent of its members are
battling with this problem. “A significant number of local
authorities have not managed to complete the registration process,”
said spokesperson Peter O’Neill.
Simon Spoerer, chairperson of NAIRO England, which represents
inspection officers, added: “The sheer number of small
children’s homes turned out to be higher than anticipated and
the standards found in these homes were frequently very poor. Some
were so poor that they were unsafe.
“A significant number of home owners had a very poor
understanding of what was expected of them and were used to a
situation where purchasing authorities were almost congratulating
them for simply existing rather than the standard of care they were
offering,” he added.
“A lot of placing authorities were abandoning their children to
live in these small homes, were not visiting frequently, and were
not offering a good standard of care. We are not saying that all
small children’s homes were of poor standard but the
percentage that were demanded so much time, education and support
from inspectors, that the process of registration was inevitably
Spoerer added that the timetable was unrealistic. “It was always
going to be impossible for us to identify, inspect and regulate all
those homes in 14 months.”
But the department of health is taking a tough line, saying
local authorities had over a year to ensure all small homes were
registered. Not only are small providers breaking the law now if
they have not completed registrations, but local authorities will
also be told they have failed in their duty if the registrations
have not been completed, said a spokesperson.