Safety of new children’s home locations assessed from this month

Independent Children's Homes Association says reforms put too great a burden on residential child care providers

Photo: Rex Features (posed by model)

Regulations requiring children’s home providers to assess the suitability of locations for new homes came into force at the start of this month.

The measure, which is part of a set of changes to The Children’s Homes Regulations 2001  and The Care Standards Act 2000 (Registration) (England) Regulations 2010, means that providers must give Ofsted information about the safety and suitability of the location of a new home as a condition of registration.

In its response to the consultation about the measures, the Department for Education (DfE) said it would also produce guidance on the assessments after further discussions with relevant organisations including care home providers, councils and the police.

The proposal was made in response to evidence that some children’s homes were in areas with crime problems and that the children in these homes might be targeted by predatory adults.

The other changes, which were implemented in January, include:

  • A requirement on children’s homes to notify their local authority of admissions and discharges;
  • Homes to have a prevention policy and strategy to deal with missing children which take into account the views of relevant local services;
  • Existing children’s homes must conduct an annual risk assessment of their area working with the relevant local services, although this does not include an explicit requirement for them to engage with the police;
  • The registered person at a children’s home can request a care plan review when a child goes missing frequently;
  • Care home workers must get a level 3 children and young people workforce diploma, or equivalent, within two years of appointment;
  • Care home managers must have level 5 diploma in leadership for health and social care and children and young people’s services or equivalent within three years of appointment;
  • Safeguarding to be included in the responsibilities of the registered person at children’s homes.

There will also be further guidance on the amount of time for which homes can operate without a manager.

Proposals that councils must quality assure providers’ independent visiting schemes, and that care home managers must have a management qualification before appointment, were dropped.

However, the DfE paper said the idea of managers being qualified before appointment will be revisited during the review of the training and qualifications framework for children’s homes staff.

The Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA) said the government should produce a strategy on the best use of children’s care homes with all agencies involved with looked-after children.

Jonathan Stanley, chief executive of the ICHA, said: “The government needed to issue guidance for all agencies involved, health, education, children’s services, police, planning.

“The reforms address only the factors within homes. Homes have been given all of the responsibility and no authority to get the information they need to meet the requirements made of them.”

He said some providers had been unable to get able to get the information they needed from other agencies to do the location risk assessment. “Providers are contacting the long list of agencies necessary to complete their location risk assessment and these future partners have not yet the personnel or systems in place,” he said.

The ICHA had calculated the full set of policy changes, including location risk assessments, would have a one-off cost of £540.33 per child, plus annual costs of £2,240 to £2,356 per child, Stanley said.

He said the location risk assessment alone would take two weeks per care home manager, which would cost £2,180 per home or £3.75m per year for 1718 homes. The experiences of members who had started to implement the changes suggested the costs, particularly of the location risk assessment, were likely to be higher than estimated.

However, the DfE’s impact assessment of the policies found that the location risks assessment for new homes would cost the private and voluntary care home sector a total of £80,608 per year over 10 years while the remaining reforms, which includes the annual assessment of risks in the vicinity of the home, would cost the sector a total of £2.59m over the same period.

The DfE put the cost per home of the annual assessment of risks in the vicinity of the home at £403.04 per home per year while the one-off assessment for new homes would cost the same and take about 16 hours of a manager’s time to complete.

Differences between the ICHA and DfE cost estimates included the amount of time they believed it would take care managers to complete the location assessments and the number of homes affected by various measures.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have been clear that only good or outstanding care is acceptable for children and young people living in residential homes – this is why we are overhauling children’s residential care so that all homes are high quality, safe and secure.

“Following our consultation we promised a series of reforms – which are all now in force. These include requiring children’s homes to have a missing child policy and to notify the local authority in their area every time a child is admitted to or leaves a home. We are also improving standards by requiring all staff and managers in homes to complete training and gain qualification within a set timeframe.”

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