Almost 70% of specialist children’s homes do not receive enough funding to provide looked-after children with outstanding care.
Community Care surveyed providers of specialist residential child care, including homes that look after children with some of the most complex needs, and found the majority (68%) said they could not afford to provide the very best care.
Almost a third (30%) of the 62 respondents said they could only afford to provide ‘adequate’ care, while 35% said they could provide ‘good’ care. But 3% felt they could not even provide adequate care with the funding they receive.
What providers say:
“It is not the funding that provides the outstanding care, but the members of staff providing that care. The funding just makes it easier.”
“The children receive funding to enable them to receive outstanding care, however the workers aren’t paid enough to give the outstanding care.”
Limited funding is available for professional development in areas needed to support young people with regard to mental health, substance abuse and trauma.”
“We provide outstanding care, but uncertainty about occupancy levels has a negative affect on staff morale and can mean we lose good members of staff. Councils have little understanding of what to look for when seeking ‘therapeutic’ care.”
Councils ‘driving down fees’
The findings raise concerns about funding for specialist residential care, which often commands large fees due to the high ratio of staff to children and range of interventions.
Although most providers said the care they gave was still good or adequate, they said they felt restricted and had to limit activities for children or extra training for staff.
“We receive funding, which is based on the levels of need of the children,” one residential care worker wrote. “However, councils are constantly driving down the fees and we struggle to stop this impacting on the children.
“This is becoming more and more difficult. We have not increased our fees over the last five years, but the cost of living has increased.”
The survey findings compare with data published last week by the Department for Education, that revealed 72% of children’s homes in England are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, while just 4% are deemed inadequate.
Risk to the system
One children’s homes manager said: “Homes may be meeting Ofsted standards, but many providers are having to cut corners and would like to be offering much more than they are. That could be renumerating their underpaid staff or treating young people to outings or activities that build confidence and trusting relationships.”
John Diamond, chief executive of the Mulberry Bush School, said: “If we are to develop a truly world class care system, the authentic cost of meeting the needs of traumatised children needs to be negotiated and acknowledged. Ultimately, services that are outstanding should be supported to thrive, thus meeting the child’s needs..
“Otherwise we risk perpetuating a system that focuses purely on the financial and continues to undermine the delivery of transformative services for the most vulnerable children and young people.”
Professionals involved with placing children in specialist homes were also asked for their experiences in a snapshot poll.
What social workers say:
“I feel directed by senior management to choose cheap options, and residential care seems to be seen as a ‘dumping ground’ for those we can’t place anywhere else.
“I have placed young people who have very challenging needs, yet they have remained in placement and gained excellent outcomes.”
“Often providers claim to be specialist, but the staff delivering the day-to-day service are no different to staff in any other service. It is often in a home’s interests to mystify what they do to set them apart.”
“We have very limited local specialist residential care so we are placing outside the local authority. The placements we have found are excellent but this poses a strain on family contact.”
Local authority experiences
Only 6% of the 40 respondents, all of whom worked for councils or social care agencies, said the provision in their area was outstanding. Over a third (37%) said it was adequate, while 30% said it was good and 27% that it was poor.
Councils were also asked why they recommended specialist residential placements. Nearly all (94%) said they were quite or very likely to recommend it due to harmful sexual harmful behaviour, but 60% said they were quite or very unlikely to recommend it for children who were victims of sexual abuse.
The two most influential reasons for choosing a specialist home over a foster placement were that suitable foster carers couldn’t be found (cited by 85% of respondents) and the placement was the best option for the child (cited by 84%).
‘A very valuable resource’
Good outcomes and well trained staff were by far the most important factors when choosing a specialist residential placement, although 80% of those surveyed said that value for money was very or quite important too.
The findings highlight the issues for those referring children to specialist homes, Diamond said, for which, “intervention can offer genuine stability of placement for severely emotionally troubled children”.
“Our outcomes data identifies that 93% of referred children are re-integrated into an appropriate family, and 100% into an appropriate school,” he said.
“In preparation for succesful and sustainable foster placements, specialist residential care can be a very valuable resource.
“It can help children who present highly chaotic aggressive and sexualised behaviours to have planned experiences of individual and group relationships, to help them work through difficulties and learn to live with themselves and others,” he added.