The government has unveiled a wide-ranging package of reforms to overhaul the country’s ‘failing’ residential child care system.
Announcing the measures today, children’s minister Edward Timpson said the reforms will lead to a much sharper focus on transparency, a drive for higher quality in children’s homes and stricter measures to hold councils and homes to account for the decisions they make when placing children.
He made it clear that children’s homes will need to meet higher standards of safety and quality – as Ofsted has already emphasised – or risk permanent closure.
The reforms follow a seven-month investigation into children’s homes by BBC Panorama, the results of which were aired last night. It revealed one in four children are placed in homes rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘adequate’ by Ofsted, while more than half of children in residential care are placed away from their local area.
Residential care ‘shrouded in secrecy’ for too long
Edward Timpson said: “For too long children’s residential care has been ignored – leading to unacceptable failings in the system. We’ve worked hard over the last year to identify the problems and are now taking strong action to tackle them.
“Children in care should expect the same standards that we would want for our own children. Our reforms will improve the quality of care and tackle the out-of-sight, out-of-mind culture and poor decision making, so vulnerable children are safe.
“I’m a strong believer that transparency drives up quality. Our package of reforms will remove the secrecy which has shrouded residential care for too many years –shining a light on where local authorities and care homes can do better.”
Government action on reform
The government’s reforms will implement recommendations made the three expert groups that have been looking at quality in children’s homes, data on missing children and out-of-area placements. The measures outlined today include:
• introduce rules so Ofsted will only allow new homes to be opened in safe areas, run by competent providers;
• ensure homes already open in less safe areas demonstrate they can protect children – otherwise Ofsted will close them; and
• set mandatory limits for staff working in children’s homes to achieve minimum qualifications.
• publish full inspection reports including ownership – unless it risks identifying children; and
• set out that homes must clearly indicate the type and level of provision they offer so they are equipped to meet the needs of the children placed with them.
• introduce new rules so homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area; and
• strengthen the rules so a senior council official approves out-of-area placements that are a significant distance from a child’s home
More data and analysis later this summer
Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said Ofsted welcomed the new measures, including those “which will strengthen our ability to drive up standards in children’s homes and act against poor performing providers to help keep these young people safe”.
Last week Community Care reported the watchdog plans to replace the current ‘adequate’ inspection rating for children’s homes with a new ‘requires improvement’ judgement. “This will send a clear signal that good should be regarded as the minimum acceptable standard of provision for all children,” Wilshaw said.
Later this summer, the government will publish further data and analysis on the location and quality of care homes, and how councils place children. This will be used to improve how authorities choose and pay for places in children’s homes, and encourage them to find more local placements.
The government has also published the Revised Statutory Guidance on Children Missing from Care. From September, Ofsted will inspect local authorities’ performance to examine how they are meeting the statutory requirements to reduce the number of children who go missing from care.
‘Kids Lost in Care’: BBC investigation into children’s homes