Councils will be able to remove children from residential placements with just one day’s notice, under a controversial new clause in the national children’s homes contract.
The clause applies only to the first seven days of a placement, although the minimum notice period for removals within three months of a placement has also been reduced, to 14 days. Previously, the standard minimum notice period was 28 days.
The change has outraged the sector, prompting the Independent Children’s Homes Association – which represents more than 500 establishments – to reject the entire national contract, despite consensus that one is needed.
Speaking exclusively to Community Care, Steve Lord, co-chair of the ICHA, said the revised contract – which followed disagreement between commissioners about the original one – was “deeply disappointing” and spurned the evidence base on good residential child care.
“The ICHA cannot support a national contract that supports poor decision-making through enabling the termination of placements at short or no notice and further disadvantages the most vulnerable young people in our system,” Lord said.
“Providers cannot just cut staff and do without funding if placements are terminated at short notice. It shows a complete misunderstanding of how things can practically be done, let alone whether it is the right thing to do for vulnerable young people.”
Lord cited data, from parliamentary questions, proving that there were 1,200 children and young people in England with between five and nine placement moves in the year and 130 with 10 or more placement moves, as of the 31 March 2010.
“How can anyone who moves home more than five times in one year possibly attain stability and become successfully integrated into any school?” he said. “It is time the sector pulled together to identify those children and young people who persistently fall through gaps in the system.”
Lord said the ICHA remained supportive of a national contract as long as it ensured the best provision and protection of young people.
The national contract for the placement of children in residential children’s homes was drawn up in 2007 to create consistent and cost-effective commissioning arrangements. Although voluntary, it has been widely used for new placements and existing placements up for review.
However, over the past three years local and regional variations have emerged leading to the revised national contract.
“We are right back at square one,” Lord said. “Providers will have to negotiate separately on each different case. This will be costly and time consuming.”
The ICHA has urged children’s minister Tim Loughton to investigate.
Community Care is awaiting a response from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Department for Education.
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