Unregulated settings to face inspections a third as often as children’s homes

DfE proposes three-yearly inspections for supported accommodation settings and that managers will not be required to hold equivalent qualification to children's home counterparts

Image of folder marked 'Regulations' (credit: caracoot / Adobe Stock)
(credit: caracoot / Adobe Stock)

Currently unregulated services for 16- and 17-year-old children in care and care leavers would be inspected a third as often as children’s homes, once requirements for them to register with Ofsted come into force next year, under government plans.

The Department for Education (DfE) has proposed that so-called supported accommodation services – currently known as independent or semi-independent placements – should be inspected at least once every three years, compared with the norm of annual inspections for children’s homes.

This is one of several distinctions between the two settings set out in a consultation issued last week on proposed quality standards, inspection arrangements and guidance on meeting regulations for supported accommodation providers.

Most fundamentally, supported accommodation providers would be required to provide ‘support’, but not ‘care’, unlike children’s homes and foster care.

Children’s charities and campaign groups have warned this will create a two-tier system for looked-after children, with most children, including all under 16, receiving care, and those in supported accommodation settings only support, though the DfE stressed that the latter would need to be “caring” environments and that care and support were on a continuum.

As the DfE had previously set out, supported accommodation will be measured against four quality standards, compared with nine for children’s homes, and Ofsted will regulate supported accommodation at a provider level, unlike children’s homes, which are regulated on a setting by setting basis. In its latest consultation, the DfE said that each provider would need one registered service manager for all of its supported accommodation settings, with inspections covering a representative sample of settings.

Though there would be no limit on the number of settings, the DfE said that the provider would need to ensure that the registered manager could effectively supervise the management of every setting, and would be held accountable if this wasn’t the case.

No requirement for management qualification

However, registered managers would not be held to the same learning and development requirements as those for children’s homes, who must complete a level 5 diploma in leadership and management in residential care, or equivalent qualification, within three years of taking up post.

Instead, the DfE’s draft guidance “recommended that the registered service manager has a management qualification equivalent to Level 5 or should seek to acquire this qualification within 3 years of registration”.

Proposed quality standards for supported accommodation

  1. Leadership and management – this includes the provider ensuring that staff have the experience, qualifications and skills to meet the needs of each child, there are sufficient staff to support and accommodate children safely and effectively, all staff promote and prioritise the welfare of children and the service helps children aspire to fulfil their potential. Under the proposals, staff include volunteers.
  2. Protection – including ensuring that children are protected from harm and enabled to keep themselves safe and have 24-hour access to help in a crisis or emergency, and that staff have the skills to identify and act upon signs that a child is at risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation or any other harm, and act to reduce such risk.
  3. Accommodation – this includes ensuring that the premises provide stability and consistency of accommodation for children, offer a comfortable, positive and therapeutic environment, while respecting children’s need for privacy and are adequately maintained so as to provide a welcoming and homely environment within both individual and shared living spaces.
  4. Support – including ensuring that children are encouraged and enabled to take a lead role in determining the support they receive and to participate in and influence how the supported accommodation provision operates and keeping the child’s support under review throughout the duration of the placement to ensure their needs continue to be met and they are kept safe.

Source: Guide to supported accommodation regulations including quality standards: draft for consultation December 2022 (Department for Education)

Unregulated care ‘has too far fallen short’

In introducing regulation of supported accommodation, the DfE is seeking to address longstanding concerns about the quality and safety of provision for looked-after children in currently unregulated provision.

Claire Coutinho

Claire Coutinho (photo: HM Government)

Launching the consultation, children’s minister Claire Coutinho said: “Supported accommodation can work well for young people but in too many cases standards have fallen short and vulnerable young people have paid the price.

“I am determined that we stop this and that supported accommodation is of the same high standard across the country.”

The DfE said supported accommodation would encompass single occupancy settings, such as bedsits and flats, shared accommodation ring-fenced for children in care and care leavers, such as foyers, non-ring fenced shared accommodation and family-based settings.

In the latter case, the registered provider would be a supported lodgings service, whose role would be to arrange accommodation for the young person with a host family.

No ban on barges or caravans

Despite particular concerns about children being placed in mobile settings – such as barges or caravans – the DfE has not proposed banning these placements, saying that in “some limited and exceptional circumstances this type of provision might be the right option for young people”.

It has invited responses in the consultation on whether this is the right approach, but this proposal has already sparked stinging criticism, including from former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield. Others, such as British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England professional officer Rebekah Pierre, who spent time in unregulated accommodation while in care, have been similarly critical of the inclusion of bedsits.

The DfE stressed that supported accommodation would not suit the majority of looked-after children, including those with complex needs or at risk of going missing, and was targeted at those with “relatively high or increasing levels of independence, who are ready to gain further skills to prepare for adult living, and who do not need the degree of care or type of environment provided in a children’s home or foster care”.

However, campaigners have maintained their opposition to the exclusion of ‘care’ from the requirements on providers.

“We’re yet to see evidence that the govt has listened to young [people’s] experiences of living in ‘supported’ accommodation. This consultation is an opportunity to make sure [they] understand the negative impact these proposals will have,” said Katharine Sacks-Jones, the chief executive of children in care and care leavers charity Become, in a statement to Children and Young People Now.

Council concerns over placement sufficiency

At the same time, council leaders restated their concerns that the introduction of regulation would reduce the already scarce supply of placements for looked-after children.

A Local Government Association spokesperson told CYPNow: “We support plans to introduce quality standards, registration and inspection, which will drive up standards for this form of accommodation and help to ensure young people are living in high quality homes with the right support around them.

“However, we have repeatedly emphasised to the government that this risks both increasing the cost of placements and reducing the sufficiency of places. While neither of these in itself is a reason not to introduce quality standards, it is essential that these impacts are mitigated to ensure that these changes do not inadvertently make the current sufficiency challenge worse.”

The consultation runs until 16 January 2023. Ofsted will start registering providers from April 2023, and this will become mandatory from October, with pilot inspections starting in September of next year and their full rollout beginning in April 2024.


Comments are closed.