Children’s home contract could be illegal

A national contract for children's homes which permits local authorities to terminate placements with just one day's notice could be illegal, Community Care understands.

A national contract for children’s homes which permits local authorities to terminate placements with just one day’s notice could be illegal, Community Care understands.

The clause applies only to the first seven days of a residential 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.

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

From this month, new statutory guidance on care planning for looked-after children is in 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.

Community Care understands that any requirement allowing a child to be removed from a placement with only 24 hours’ notice could breach this statutory responsibility towards looked-after children.

The change has outraged the sector, prompting the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA) – which represents more than 500 establishments – to reject 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 evidenced-based 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,” he said.

Providers will struggle to plan and budget effectively 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.”

A spokesperson for the National Contracts Steering Group said: “We are disappointed that partners did not raise issues during the lengthy consultation on the new contracts, but are looking into the detail of the concerns. Providers should bear in mind that the clauses intend to be used only as a last resort, for example if a placement has broken down irrevocably.”

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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