The new Children’s Minister, Kemi Badenoch, has entered the children’s social care sector at a time when decisive leadership is essential. A start has been made by the creation of the National Stability Forum but with a change of minister, we do need assurances that the work will continue.
Following the, very largely positive Review of Residential Child Care, carried out by Sir Martin Narey in 2016, we have seen the ever-increasing perception of the work being done by registered children’s home as being vital to the future well-being of the young people it supports. However, commissioning practice – an area which Sir Martin highlighted for action – has changed little and we continue to experience regional differences in the way agencies work together in the interests of the children placed in residential care. We have ‘The National Protocol on Reducing Unnecessary Criminalisation of Looked-after children and Care Leavers’ that is not applied nationally, a shortage of children’s homes placements and considerable variation in the availability of both suitable education and mental health support in different regions.
If we are to consistently deliver high quality residential child care, we need to change some current practice. The Independent Children’s Home Association, representing almost 90% of residential providers, has five key themes it encourages the new minister to champion, with a view to delivering the quality of service to which we all surely aspire:
- The title ‘Children’s Home’ to become a legally protected title that will provide confidence to the public and ensure children who live in them are not confused with those that are living in unregistered and/or unregulated provision.
- The introduction of a nationally accepted and applied standardised assessment tool that links need to the identification of the most appropriate services.
- The development of true partnership that enables relational commissioning to be developed, thereby facilitating confidence and trust that can produce the co-working that ensures children’s needs are met in the most effective and efficient manner.
- The expectation that the support provided to all children who are looked after is guaranteed through a regulation and inspection framework that ensures the highest quality of service provision, where standards are outstanding, and children’s needs are paramount.
- The successful transition of care leavers to independent living, ensuring it is managed on a needs-led basis that suitably equips care leavers to move into the adult world with the confidence to live their lives to the full.
ICHA hopes the minister will get behind the work being achieved by so many dedicated staff in the residential child care sector and that we can work together to improve stability and outcomes for children and young people in public care. It would be a true measure of the minister’s commitment, if she could publicly say the standards her government have put in place are consistent with what she would expect for children in her own family.