Practice comment

Children’s homes are becoming an endangered species and young people are suffering as a result, says Peter Frampton

When a young person is taken into care after a traumatic experience, it is reasonable to expect that the authorities would minimise the risks of that child being further disturbed by care itself. Any such placement carries some risk of breakdown, but family placements carry a significant additional risk today.

No matter how much effort is put in by the young person and the carers alike, there is a high risk of breakdown, as carers and cared-for discover that they have major difficulties living in this, after all, temporary arrangement.

This government has misguidedly ignored the advice of the 1997 Utting Report and encouraged the closure of children’s homes.

Thousands of young people in care are forced to endure 20-plus moves. They lose their friends, their schooling and their self-esteem.

Sibling families, after they are comfortably placed in traditional residential homes, are nowadays also expected to suffer the trauma of being split up. A recent survey carried out by charity A National Voice found that more than 75 per cent of young people in care reported difficulty seeing their siblings.

Two-thirds of children’s homes are now privately owned. They charge between £2,000 and £6,000 a week. Social workers are therefore under budgetary pressure to drag the children out of residential placements, returning them to the cheaper fostering option.

In 2000, Save the Children carried out a survey of teenagers in care in Scotland which showed that most young people preferred to be in residential placements than foster care.

There are several reasons why residential homes are more appealing.

After several failed family placements with their arbitrary rules and rejections, the young person can have personal space. Many young people enter care with close attachments to their own families and do not want the complication of yet another family, particularly those teenagers who consider that they are entering the age of responsibility.

If the government needs encouragement to change tack, it should look at Germany where 70 per cent of young ­people who have been removed from their birth families are in residential care and have the sort of successful outcomes that put the UK to shame.

Traditional children’s homes, run under modern professional methods and offering protection and, above all, respect can offer future generations of young people the stability they need and an environment in which to develop genuine friendships, schooling and self-confidence. 

Phil Frampton is author of The Golly in the Cupboard – an account of his time in care. He presents The Insider: Orphanages on Channel 4, 9 March, 7.30pm

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