Rethink on children’s home contract after sector anger

Children may soon be no longer at risk of removal from children's homes with just one day's notice after Community Care highlighted problems with the new children's homes contract.

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Children may soon be no longer at risk of removal from children’s homes with just one day’s notice after Community Care highlighted problems with the new children’s homes contract.

A controversial clause in the new national contract for residential homes allows local authorities to remove children from their placements with just one day’s notice during the first seven days of a placement and with 14 days notice within the first three months. Previously, the standard minimum notice period was 28 days.

Due to sector outrage about the new clause, the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA), which represents more than 500 establishments, has rejected the entire national contract, despite consensus that one is needed.

Steve Lord, co-chair of the ICHA, told Community Care that the revised contract – which followed disagreement between commissioners about the original contract – was “deeply disappointing” and spurned good evidence-based residential child care practice.

“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,” he said.

Following Community Care’s reports, the national steering group responsible for drawing up the contract has announced plans to review the controversial clause.

In a statement the group said: “One sub-clause of the residential homes contract relating to notification periods continues to be a source of concern for some residential homes. National contracts steering group has therefore agreed to set up a small short-life working group to review the clause.”

The group is due to meet next month and their conclusions will be the subject of further discussion at this year’s National Contracting and Commissioning Conference in Derbyshire.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said ministers do not endorse the contract either, even suggesting it could breach legislation.

“This document has not been endorsed by the Department for Education,” the spokesperson said. “It is important that local authorities follow the legislative framework when making decisions about individual children.”

In April, new statutory guidance on care planning for looked-after children came into force, alongside revised guidance for children’s homes. This requires councils and children’s home providers “to work closely together so that, except in emergencies, decisions to terminate placements are only made as a result of a statutory review that has given careful consideration to the assessed needs of the child concerned”, the spokesperson confirmed.

The national contract for the placement of children in residential children’s homes was originally drawn up in 2007 to create efficient, standardised and cost-effective commissioning arrangements. Although it has only voluntary status, it has been used widely for new placements and existing placements coming up for review.

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