There is, currently, a huge debate around children social care (and so welcome it is), due to news around the lack of resources, the lack of quality of some provisions, the risks some children are facing and the lack of a long-term plan to address all this (this list is, obviously, not exhaustive). I have been thinking about writing something about this, but usually I end up just writing some bits in some debates on twitter. This post is exactly about this. My view about the arguments, my ideas, focused on the specific area where I work: Children Residential Care.
PRIVATE VERSUS PUBLIC
One of the main topics debated when there is an open discussion about children social care is the dichotomy between pubic and private. Any debate on social media around Children’s Homes, for example, will end up on this topic. And I think this is where everything starts going wrong, as there is a tendency to focus on this argument.
For me, even if I know and understand the main arguments on each side, this should be a secondary debate and not the essential one. What should on the focus of the discussion is the quality of the service provided and how well children are cared or supported (I will come back to this below), as despite studies and research there is no clear evidence that one is more expensive than the other or that one offers a better service and achieve better outcomes than the other.
It is, mainly, a political ideological discussion, and something that should not be the focus of the discussion. There are good private providers and settings as there are other that are not that good. There are good public providers and settings as there are other that are not that good.
CARE VERSUS SUPPORT
Other current “heavy” discussion, instigated by the news around supported accommodation (or unregulated settings) and the regulation of this settings, is the one around “care” and “support”. Legally, it is not possible to provide “care” in unregulated setting, and only “support” is allowed. What know one seems interested in discussing is the practical implication of the legal definition of what is “care” or “support”.
The “Introduction to Children’s Homes” published by Ofsted and recently updated (February 2021) tries to bring some clarity around this discussion, establishing differences between “care” and “support” by a set of 12 indicators. My question is: Not being legally possible to “care” for a child over 16 years old in supported accommodation setting is it possible for staff to be caring? [answer is: IT IS] Going back to the legal definition of care (as per Ofsted document), it is only this that “care” is about?
Don’t get me wrong, as I wrote before, I do know that there are provisions that I am not even able to qualify and I do defend the regulation of this supported accommodation setting and I do believe that there is a reason why these settings exist and should continue to exist (and I will discuss this below), but I do believe that “care” is much more than its legal definition, that (and I know this by experience) there are also supported accommodation settings where children above the age of 16 are very well supported and looked after, and I struggle to not call it “care” (but I can’t, because law doesn’t allow me to, due to a very restricted definition of what care should be?).
CHILDREN’S HOME VERSUS SUPPORTED ACCOMMODATION
Having the above in consideration, the difference between both settings should not be about if staff is able to care or only support the children living there, but it should be about what are the goals for placing a child in a supported accommodation setting instead of in a children’s home. And this should be about independence. Support Accommodation must not be a “step down” from care, a “step down” from a children’s home, but a “step towards” independency.
And this must be where the regulation of these settings must start. These settings should not be different because of the “service” they provide, but because of the levels of independence and independent skills of the children living in each one of them. Above all, is should be about the implementation of a service with great quality that meets the needs of the young people.
And the regulation should go much deeper than only this and create a consistent supported accommodation service…
a) It should guarantee that children should not be sharing a home with adults (supported accommodation for adults must be a completely different setting), unless the adults were children than lived there, and are still living there because it was assessed as the best thing to do in their pathway plan or because for any reason, the transition planned that was created with the child (now adult) did not go the way it was expected.
b) As in Children’s Homes, an Impact Risk Assessment or Matching Risk Assessment should be completed, but this assessment should also have a clear analysis of the child’s independent skills and if being on that specific placement is a good matching or, if having in consideration any difficulties around independent skills, that child would be better in placed in a children’s home.
c) While assessing the referral, the placement must have in consideration the goals established in the pathway plan. If the goal is family reunification, for example, the child will probably be better supported achieving this in a children’s home and supported accommodation should be focus on children which plan does not include returning home, but live independently.
d) It should allow the development of the Staying Close scheme in these settings.
CHANGES ALSO IN CHILDREN’S HOMES
But not only supported accommodation should change (although it is dramatically necessary in this case) but also Children’s Homes must have changes in the regulations, especially around:
a) Ofsted must have more accountability regarding their decisions. There should be a process to allow providers to take the complaints/challenges to other organisms if unsatisfied with the response.
b) Providers replies to Ofsted reports should be published attached to the report in order to guarantee more transparency in the whole process.
c) In whatever form (maybe even virtual) there should be more inspections, as the reality and dynamics of the homes change so much and so fast, that every 6 months seems such a long time…
d) More relevance should be given to other qualifications (in social sciences area, for example) besides NVQ’s Level 3 and Level 5. Academic qualifications are a clear example.
e) The goals, practice and rules in Children’s Homes vary with the age of the children, thus consistency is an issue when a children’s home have children with very different ages. Registration should have this in consideration.
f) Still during the registration, inspectors must assess the training programme that is offered by the provider, to guarantee that it is the training necessary to be able to work, support and care for the children will live on those homes. The amount of online trainings being provided to staff and how much staff really learn and is able to apply from those trainings are, at least, arguable.