The government has announced a raft of care reforms, designed to ensure that “lower standards of care and aspiration” are never again applied to children in residential care.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson claimed there was a tendency for this to happen, citing the Rochdale abuse case as an example and blaming an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality to children placed in residential care outside their local authority.
The first of the new measures is a plan to ensure only senior officials have the authority to place a child far from their home. Officials will need to be certain the placement is in the child’s best interests. Subject to consultation, in June, the plan will be in place by December.
Under the plan, the placing council will be expected to consult with the local area before placing a child in a home – to quality assure the safety and location of the home – and ensure they are notified when the child is placed and when they move.
Children missing from care
Plans to improve the recording of children missing from care homes also feature in the reforms. From April 2014, the government will collect national data for all children missing from care, rather than just those missing for 24 hours or more.
Writing in the Telegraph, Timpson said it was “simply unacceptable that many homes seem unable to get a grip on how many of their children are going missing, nor for alarms to be raised and robust action to be taken when young people go missing on multiple occasions”.
New rules for children’s homes
As such, children’s homes will have to meet a new range of requirements, including a duty to notify local authorities when children move in from other local areas, and when they leave.
Private children’s homes providers will also be expected to carry out a risk assessment of a local area, with the police and council, before opening a home. If the area is considered to be unsafe or unsuitable, registration will be refused or suspended.
Timpson also unveiled plans to improve the skills and training of residential staff. It will include a “comprehensive review” of the training, qualifications and career pathways for residential care workers, beginning this summer and leading to a new qualifications and training framework for the sector.
More training and qualifications for residential sector
Additionally, by the end of this year, people currently working in children’s homes will be required to have completed minimum qualifications within a set period of time.
“While there is no doubt many care home staff display great commitment and relentless dedication, the simple fact is that quality matters,” Timpson wrote. He added: “I want us to see in future that Rochdale was not the beginning of these terrible stories about children in care – but the beginning of the end of them.”
Jonathan Stanley, chief executive of the Independent Children’s Homes Association, said the sector welcomed the government’s commitment, confirming that his organisation – which represents around 500 homes – would be a “solid ally”.
But he also pointed out that, “you get positive children’s homes in a positive children’s services system”. “At the very least there is shared responsibility,” Stanley said, “including from national and local government, to ensure the right placement at the right time for each child on robust social work grounds and thoroughly supported by social workers and others.”
Looked-after children – care planning, placement choice and review