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Narey: Children’s residential care is 'misunderstood'

Martin Narey publishes an independent review of children’s residential care

The role of residential care is misunderstood, Martin Narey has concluded in his independent review into the use of residential care.

“I think the role of children’s homes is misunderstood, the challenge of the children they care for underestimated, and the contribution they make too easily dismissed,” said Narey’s review.

While the dramatic shift from the use of residential care towards fostering should be welcomed and there may be scope for moving some children, who have previously not succeeded in fostering, from residential care and into a different sort of foster care.

But there is a very real and unmet demand for the greater use of children’s homes as part of an initial assessment for older children when first coming into care, and for those on the edge of care, Narey said.

“So I see very little scope for reducing our reliance on children’s homes and I am quite clear that to do so would not be in the interests of children,” he added.

The prime minister David Cameron commissioned Narey to review residential care for children in October last year “to we can take every possible step to make sure these children get the best start in life”.

Residential care accounts for 12% of all care placements in England. There were 8,320 children in residential care from a care population of 69,540 in March 2015 Of these, 5290 lived in children’s homes, 180 lived in secure units, 1100 lived in hostels (generally as part of the process of leaving care), 1080 lived in other residential settings (including care by the NHS, mother and baby units and custody) and 670 lived in residential schools.

Narey’s review found:

  • The annual cost of caring for the 8,300 children is about one billion pounds.
  • The cost of the 5,300 children in children’s homes is about £750m a year.
  • There were 1,795 active children’s homes in March 2015.
  • 67% of children live in private provision while local authorities provide homes for 28% and the voluntary sector provides home for just 5% of children.
  • The average weekly cost of a place in a children’s home is approximately £3,000, with little difference in cost between local authority, voluntary sector and private sector provision.
  • At the end of March 2015, almost three quarters of children were living in homes classed by Ofsted as good or better.

“Children’s homes are seen by many social work professionals, including many senior managers, as places of last resort: perhaps somewhere to park children temporarily, until a crisis has passed,” said Narey.

“For a greater number of managers, homes are seen as an anachronism, and relatively little investment has gone into developing best practice within them. And there has been a signal failure to obtain reasonable value for money when using them,” he added.

However, Narey says that it is not to say that children’s homes cannot be improved and improvement would happen more quickly if the government created a Residential Care Leadership Board comprising academics, providers from local authorities, the voluntary and the private sector; commissioners and other experts and reporting to the minister for Children.

The body would lead work on improving commissioning and obtaining better value for comey for local authorities, advise ministers on the role and demand of residential care, reduce unnecessary criminalisation and keep children safe. The Board would also advise on how best to implement ‘Staying Close’ and  would “remove much of the suspicion and mistrust in the residential care world, improve best practice, and bring greater clarity and coherence to this much misunderstood and grossly under appreciated part of children’s social care”.

Other recommendations include:

  • The Department for Education must be to facilitate the improvement of local and regional commissioning skills.
  • Providers should examine their staff attendance systems to ensure they are as effective as possible in meeting the needs of children. When placing children, commissioners should look closely at the numbers of staff on duty at key times of the day.
  • Fostering is overdue a fundamental review and this should be a priority for the Department for Education.
  • Local authorities and consortia should be cautious about following any hard and fast rule about placement distance and to recognise that the right placement for a child is more important than location.
  • The Department for Education needs to consider how they might encourage alternative providers from the voluntary and private sector to enter the secure care market.
  • The Department for Education, in consultation with Ofsted, needs to reconsider their guidance to ensure that staff are able to keep children safe by preventing them leaving homes at time of danger.
  • Ofsted should introduce arrangements whereby homes achieving a good or outstanding rating will be inspected only once a year.
  • From 2018, Scotland will require staff in children’s homes to be graduates. Ministers in England should not follow that example in England.
  • As many social work students as possible spend some of their two hundred days placement experience in children’s homes.
  • The Department for education should identify and promulgate best practice in recruitment to children’s homes.

Martin Narey concluded by urging the government to commit to introducing the Staying Close scheme for children leaving care.

Residential care in England report

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