Children’s directors hit back at damning report on state of residential child care

Former ADCS president Andrew Webb accused children's homes of 'taking pot shots' at central and local government

Child drawing of house
Children's homes are worried about their future Credit: cce181 on Flickr

Directors of children’s services have disputed claims that there is an ‘anti-residential child care feeling’ in local authorities.

Speaking on behalf of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), former president Andrew Webb disagreed with the view of many children’s homes, saying: “Local authorities are not against residential child care. We provide it, we commission it and we see it as having a very important place in the range of services that children need”.

His comments follow a damning report on the state of residential child care, published by the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA), that warned the sector is under-estimated, under-valued and under-funded.

Webb accused the Association of taking a “pot-shot at local and central government for not making it easy for them to do business”.

“The report is just a collection of opinions of [ICHA] members and some of them use fairly inflammatory language, which does not reflect what we see in local authorities in terms of commissioning arrangements,” he said.

The ICHA’s ‘Home Truths’ report, published earlier this month, warned an “anti-residential feeling” had developed in local authorities and needs to be challenged for children’s homes to survive. It surveyed its 500 members and stressed the need for a professional body for residential child care, as well as a qualification and registration of staff.

Webb said: “I do not pick up an anti-residential child care culture, I just see a thirst in local authority commissioners to get really good value for money and excellent outcomes.

“Not all residential care is doing as well as it should do and not all residential care gives value for money and as commissioners we need to bear quality and cost issues in when mind when making decisions.”

The former ADCS president did, however, acknowledge that residential providers were working in “the most difficult area” and said the ADCS is looking at how to move away from the out-dated construct of children’s homes as a placement of last resort.

“We need to find alternatives that are more community-based for using residential care and that is something we are actively working on,” he said.

Speaking to Community Care earlier this month, ICHA chief executive Jonathan Stanley said: “It has to be a major concern that this vital sector is experiencing demoralisation and fears irrevocable damage through its further diminution and contraction, even collapse, as providers disappear.”

More from Community Care

8 Responses to Children’s directors hit back at damning report on state of residential child care

  1. Gerald July 30, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    The same is also happening in Adult Care, it appears that the Social Services attitude is “if it isn’t delivered by the Public Sector it is no good”.

    This attitude is blatantly political and bearing in mind the mess that the Public Sector are in , it is also hypocritical to say the least.

    It is the system which Nievely expects the Public Sector (which provides Home placements in house) to be able to contract out to the Private Sector without being political influanced.

    Hasn’t anyone heard of Unison for goodness sake?

  2. Sarah Curry July 30, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    I wholeheartedly agree with Johnathon Stanley and his report. Residential child care is at an all time low, we have been bullied into submission by local authorities, treated unfairly by Ofsted and now sit waiting for the next attack on us.
    Ridiculous changes in Ofsted processes have left many of us waiting for over 9 months for an inspection following new gradings giving us low overall grades on our homes and other services. Requests for inspections are being blatantly ignored and the services which truly are shoddy and should be closed down are taking all of the attention from Ofsted, leaving those of us with good services to languish and suffer until either forced to close or Ofsted feel like coming to inspect!! Let us not forget that Ofsted is a service we pay for and it is a shoddy one at that!

  3. Keith July 30, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    I work in the Residential Children’s Homes sector and have recently been accused of profiteering by social workers and their managers, working for a council which is graded inadequate for its safeguarding of children. We work with extremely damaged children who the council homes cannot care for, most if not all have been pushed through inappropriate foster care and severely damaged by the local government attitude that private residential care is all about profit maximisation.
    For some children the safety of living in a group home with other young people without the complications of family dynamics and their expectations, can be liberating and in some cases lifesaving.
    Group homes allow children to dream in an environment that is supportive, they are allowed to express themselves without fear of rejection and can often for the first time, enjoy a childhood.
    Not every children’s home gets it right and the current aggressive nature of the risk adverse culture in Ofsted is damaging the innovative and specialist homes, but most do get it right, most are focussed on positive outcomes and it is time local government woke up and understood that we can do a better job than they can because we are free of local government chaos.

  4. Dr Andrew Durham July 30, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    From the time that local authorities began to close Childrens homes in the 1980’s there has been a growing interest in the sector by venture capitalists seeking huge profits. These organisations are aware of the shortage of placements and the urgent position that local authorities find themselves in. I have seen many childrens homes in my career and many times I have seen really excessive charges (and I mean thousands of pounds per week) alongside care staff being recruited and paid close to a minimum wage. This sector needs to be:
    not for profit, perhaps with a ceiling being set by government on how much local authorities are allowed to pay for placements (and private foster care for that matter). There need to be minimum standards set in terms of training and the skill set needed for residential care. Residential placements should be a part of social work training. We should be talking about residential social work (with specified tasks relating to the needs of children in residential care and their relationship with their families and the outside world, and their future beyond residential care) on an equal footing to field social work, rather than residential care. There should be a specified number of fully qualified social workers as part of the residential staff team in each home.

    • Gerald August 5, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

      Hi Dr Durham,

      All you say refers to your profession just the same, the good,the bad and the ugly exists in all walks of life . The main indicator in the Private Sector is “customer” satisfaction” something which others totally ignore. If one looks at the massive paypackets in the Public Sector for Management which is blatantly failing the Public surely its better to pay a Profit (Sallary) to a Private Manager if they giving the Public a satisfactory and efficient service.

      Just a thought : why is it the NHS is often four times the price of a similar Private Sector Service

  5. Jenni Randall July 30, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    Best report I have read in ages. The ICHA are simply saying what I and many others have been saying for years. I recently wrote an article for PSW and said that I felt that LA’s were frightened of both the managerial and political responsibility for providing residential care for young people and therefore pass the responsibility to the private sector who can provide it but not when LA’s want to use it as a cost cutting exercise. Excellence in residential care for young people is an expensive and difficult task. No matter who provides it requires both financial and managerial support from commissioners, social workers and anyone else involved in that child’s care. It should, to use Lemn Sissay’s criteria, be of a standard that we would expect for our own children and nothing less.
    I hope this report starts a real debate and not just a defensive backlash from the top.

  6. Stephen Blunden, CEO Childhood First July 30, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    The truth is that we have come across LAs who boasted about ‘not using residential’, and who are quoted as models by other LAs who apparently aspire to this ‘ideal’, even when it is not true. Andrew is right no doubt that this isn’t the DCSs’ perspective.

    In terms of ‘community solutions’, there remains enormous naivety, or is it denial, about the emotional and mental condition of some of the children who need residential and therapeutic-residential solutions, and the risks they represent to themselves and others.

    It would perhaps have been better if ICHA’s report had included more analysis – there is plenty that ICHA has done. But I believe that this has all been shared in the right forums for years and largely ignored. My sense is that this report represents a sector that has been unfairly scapegoated and attacked for years, trying to gain attention for the fact that ‘the house is on fire’, and serving notice that it will fight for the survival of this crucially needed work with some of the most damaged of children. I assume that nobody would wish to place children with doormat-types, who just accept all manner of inaccurate and degrading criticism, and perverse correctional procedures dreamed up in and around Westminster?

    The achievements of the sector for individual children need to be seen in the context of the recent CSJ/Kids Company report about the experience of children’s services for too many kids, instead of the sector being judged against the kind of marketing happy-talk about what children’s lives should be like, that is the official discourse of choice today, and is a damaging form of denial, a seemingly unchallengeable political hypnosis. This does not represent the reality of our children’s lives, their potential for harm, and the specialist residential environments needed to keep them, and everyone alongside them, safe. Against this background, the children’s residential care sector daily delivers extraordinary care for many profoundly troubled children.

  7. Philip Craig August 5, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    I agree 100% in the comments made by Dr Andrew Durham, we need a real honest attempt to balance the care needs of our young people in residential care against the cost effectiveness of providing a truely quality servce to argubly the most damaged young people in our society. For this to have an effect we must come to a decsion at some point in whch the so called policy makers realise that the quality of training for residential staff will have a significant impact against the quality of care they are being offered. Not to long ago the previous government at least were willing and prepared to seriouly consider developing the whole of the social care workforce and in particular focussing on residential care, they piloted a scheeme around introducing Social Pedagogy themes into our thinking and practice but have never come back to the original idea/s plans of further developing and lets face it professionalise what should be one of our most tresured areas of care and support to our young children and adults.

    Its ironic once again that with a report complied by ICHA highlighting concerns from people who are in the work, live the work and breath the work are scapgoated into everyone else believing they are all in this for profit which is clearly not the case in 99% of homes but because YE$S residential care is very expencive and from a buisness point of view it is a sound invetment if the right staff team and support is offered the quality of care will reflect this.

    I have worked within residential child care now for the past 35 years since 1986 i have managed a number of children’s home in and around London and if i were to reflect upon the last 35 years my deepest regret is that we have not shouted loud enough, demanded better for you young people and taken real affirmative and effective action that will force govenment to really stand up and listen and respond to the request of so many residential child care professionals who must have some ides of what is best for this service.

    Just out of interest what would happen if all the indipendent providers stood their ground regarless of potential loss of earning if they stuck together and refussed to accept any further referrals and admissions into children’s home for a period of time until we got a real committment from everyone who has the power/influence and desire to make the relevant changes neccesary to improve the general negative perception of children’s residential care.

    I know what i would like to see Just a thought.