Many small private children’s homes are
operating outside the law because local authority inspection units
have failed to complete their registrations.
After a long battle to close a dangerous
loophole in the law, which allowed children’s homes with three or
fewer 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 that pass the inspection but
many have failed to complete 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 actual number of private unregistered
homes is much higher than initially estimated.
The National Association of Independent
Resources for Children estimated that between 30 and 40 per cent of
its members were battling with this problem.
“A significant number of local authorities
have not managed to complete the registration process,” said
spokesperson Peter O’Neill. “It’s a capacity problem for some of
the registration units – it’s something they have never done
Simon Spoerer, chairperson of the National
Association of Independent Review Organisations England, which
represents inspection officers, said: “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 a
lot of placing authorities were not visiting frequently.”
He also said: “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 said that 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 councils will also be
told they have failed in their duty if the registrations have not
been completed, said a spokesperson.
Small homes that have not had their
registrations completed will have to apply directly to the National
Care Standards Commission when it comes into force at the beginning
of next month. A spokesperson said they would still be operating
outside the law until their registration was completed by the new
body, a process which could take up to four months.