Social workers need a better understanding of how to work with older, vulnerable looked-after young people, the Independent Children’s Homes Association has warned.
In a statement, the organisation said it fears knowledge and experience of such young people, including those in residential care, is “diminishing” among social workers.
The comments follow an increased political focus on residential care after it emerged that a girl who was sexually abused by a gang of men in Rochdale lived in a children’s homes in the borough. The gang, jailed last month, is believed to have abused more than 40 children.
Last week the leader of Rochdale council told the BBC he believed children should no longer be placed in the borough’s care homes because their safety could not be guaranteed.
Colin Lambert said: “Unless the child is from the Borough of Rochdale we have no say in whether the child should be here, whether the home is providing what it should [and] we get no reports back on how the child is progressing.”
Children’s minister Tim Loughton has also demanded improvements at children’s homes after reports claimed that organised networks of gangs are targeting hundreds of children in residential care for sex.
The ICHA said attitudes towards high risk young people and residential care need to be revised, warning that children’s homes are too often used as a last resort, rather than a positive option for children in care.
Jonathan Stanley, CEO of the ICHA, claimed official statistics reflect this, with the average age on entry 15.5 and only 21% of young people staying longer than one year.
“By the time many young people arrive in residential homes they have already exhausted the usual reserves of trust and testing boundaries has become a daily experience,” Stanley said.
“Young people have told us in so many reports that a children’s home earlier was exactly what they needed. Working with social workers to support young people is crucial.”
The ICHA said “comprehensive reform” of children’s services is needed to ensure residential care is used properly and clarify to providers, social workers and the police where responsibilities lie in responding to such cases.
Providers are also concerned that councils are commissioning the best value placements for children, rather than the most appropriate, Stanley said. He warned this risks creating a market based on cost rather than quality and care.
“Providers report the ‘most appropriate placement principle’ of the Children Act is being frequently trumped by best value. Rochdale tells us we need a return of child-centred [placement plannning] within children’s services.
“We need to ensure we have sufficient and diverse provision to ensure we always place children with a purpose,” Stanley said.
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