Confusion and concern have reigned among children’s homes professionals over the past week as news sinks in that the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care (NCERCC) will no longer be funded beyond this month.
The government has decided the centre’s £300,000 annual funding should now go towards a scheme to raise standards in children’s homes and it has been awarded, following formal tender, to private consultancy group Tribal. This has sparked fears that an “invaluable resource” will be lost and that official priorities have shifted, without clear reason or consultation.
Although the NCERCC – which grew out of demands for a sector-led body to drive improvements and share best practice – knew it would have to tender for its funding beyond 2010, many in the sector have admitted to assuming its well-established position within the sector meant renewed funding was almost guaranteed.
Jim Sullivan, co-chair of the Independent Children’s Home Association (ICHA), says: “I can’t imagine a situation where we don’t have the NCERCC – it’s an invaluable resource. Its contribution to the sector has been outstanding and it’s frightening if the government isn’t valuing this.”
According to professionals, the Support and Challenge programme which Tribal will deliver has a narrower remit than the NCERCC, and appears to overlap with the work of other bodies. While the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has not specified exactly what Tribal will deliver, there are clues in the tender advertisement, issued in November 2009.
It stated that the programme’s aims included working with councils to:
● Scope the profiles of each local children’s home and research the evidence base where therapies are used.
● Map private, voluntary and local authority residential provision for children in each area.
● Identify demand for different categories of homes and work with commissioners to identify best provision.
Kevin Gallagher, chair of the Charterhouse Group of therapeutic communities, says: “There is concern across the sector that Tribal’s remit appears to be significantly narrower than the NCERCC’s.” Andrew Rome, former chair of the ICHA, adds: “To stop funding what falls outside of the tender seems abrupt.”
Much of Tribal’s remit, according to Rome, seems to overlap with other bodies, including the DCSF’s Commissioning Support programme and the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services (C4E0). “I am slightly concerned at yet another body being asked to do something which other organisations are already doing,” he says.
Rome recognises that the DCSF is “trying to get a better grasp of the shape and size and segmentation of needs, demand and supply”, but says, although this is worth trying, “it is a complex and fragmented picture to try to map”.
“Tribal will need sector knowledge to even begin to attempt this,” he adds.
Just how much sector knowledge and experience the consultancy group has is unclear. A DCSF spokesperson claims that Tribal “brings a talented multi-disciplinary team with a wealth of expertise and knowledge in residential care, including well respected people in the field such as Janet Rich.” However, it is believed that Rich will be taking on a limited advisory role and, as yet, neither the DCSF nor Tribal have released information about the other experts involved.
One third-sector provider says: “The government appears to like these consultancies and I worry we’ll see yet more expertise and innovation from the public and voluntary sector being forced out of the market.”
A senior children’s home professional adds: “If there had been consultation on the necessity of the tender or more publicity around it, we could have all rallied around the NCERCC six months ago. Sometimes we don’t recognise the value of what we’ve got until it looks like we could lose it.”
While the government’s priorities remain unclear, Community Care understands there is a movement within the sector to save the NCERCC’s body of work through petitioning the government.
“The best outcome,” said Rome, “is not to lose the NCERCC and its considerable pool of knowledge and expertise. This could put the sector at significant risk.”
WHO IS TRIBAL?
● Largest adviser to the UK public sector, employing over 500 consultants in the UK.
● Annual turnover last year: £238m.
● February 2009: Appointed preferred bidder by Ofsted for £75m six-year inspection contract for the South region.
● November 2009: Appointed by Guernsey as partner on a five-year programme to review all public sector spending on the island and help deliver £70m savings.
● February 2010: Awarded £64m Ofsted contract to inspect children’s nurseries.