The government has introduced national minimum standards and Ofsted-led registration and inspection for providers of unregulated accommodation for looked after children and care leavers in a bid to drive up standards.
The Department for Education has also announced that it will no longer use the term “unregulated”, deeming it unhelpful and carrying “negative connotations even for provision that is often very good and is supporting young people to live semi-independently”.
Taking all views received from a consultation on the issue into consideration, the government will call all of this provision “supported accommodation for young people” in future, removing the use of commonly misinterpreted terms “unregulated” and “independent and semi-independent” provision to ensure that there is a consistent and universal understanding across the sector.
The reforms have been announced in a government consultation response to introducing national standards for independent and semi-independent provision for looked-after children and care leavers aged 16 and 17.
“The use of semi-independent homes has continued to grow as more older children enter the care system. These types of settings can be the right choice for 16- and 17-year-olds. They can offer a place to live with more independence and when combined with the right level of high-quality support, they enable the young people placed there to develop the skills they need to succeed in life,” said Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary.
“As the role of these settings in the care system has grown in significance, so must our attention to examining this provision more closely. We must ensure that it is used appropriately and provides the right level of support and safety for looked after children and care leavers,” he added.
The education secretary said that by moving forward with the introduction of mandatory national standards which will be overseen by an Ofsted-led registration and inspection regime “poor quality provision must and will be stamped out”.
“Ofsted will begin registering providers from April 2023 ahead of the new national standards becoming mandatory for all providers from Autumn 2023 – at which point all providers will need to be registered – and the first full inspections are expected to begin from April 2024,” he said.
Furthermore, over £142million will be invested over the next three years to support local authorities, providers and Ofsted to deliver reforms to unregulated provision.
Under the reforms, residential settings that deliver care and accommodation entirely or mainly for children must register as a children’s home. For those settings which are delivering support, as opposed to care, providers will need to engage with the new mandatory national standards and register with Ofsted, as set out later in this document.
As part of the development of the new regime, Ofsted will work with the Department and the sector to determine:
• How representative samples of settings will be selected by Ofsted for visits
• How Ofsted will apply the rating system to inspections and how this interacts with settings and providers
• How often providers and settings need to register and be inspected by Ofsted
• The fees, set by DfE and charged by Ofsted for registration and how often these need to be renewed
• How Ofsted’s framework can be flexible enough to enable the broad range of provision in the sector to operate whilst ensuring there is a strong response to poor provision.
Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said: “The use of unregistered provision for under 16s has always been an option of last resort for children with acute needs who are in real crisis, driven by a lack of placement sufficiency in local areas. These placements will often involve intensive and highly bespoke wrap around packages of support for the children in them. In advance of the changes to care regulations coming into force in September, local authorities have worked hard to move children in such placements into registered provision, but it remains the case that in some instances there might be no obvious safer and less disruptive alternative and we believe a wholly new response is needed that is flexible, agile, highly therapeutic and delivered in a safe environment.”
“There is renewed investment from the government in both secure welfare beds and children’s homes coming forward and the care review offers the opportunity to do something more radical in this space. Much closer commissioning and work between safeguarding and welfare, justice and health is needed to ensure we can meet the very complex needs of this cohort of children and young people,” she added.
Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said: “The government response to its consultation on care-less standards continues the development and consolidation of a new market for providers wishing to run properties for children in care aged 16 and 17 without having to follow the quality standards for children’s homes. Instead of making providers follow these existing standards, perhaps with modifications when establishments only care for children approaching adulthood, ministers are pressing ahead with an alternative, rudimentary set of standards which are devoid of any requirement to provide care to children. How can it possibly be acceptable for children to be in the care of the state and not receive any care where they live?
“The inspection arrangements are similarly second-rate in that only a sample of properties from any single provider will be inspected by Ofsted, rather than each place where children in care live. This is despite respondents to the consultation warning that this risks poor practice being missed, and the voices of children not being heard.
“Moreover, ministers have ruled out bringing an end to children living in properties alongside adults who often have their own very profound difficulties and vulnerabilities. Last year, the Children’s Commissioner for England raised the alarm of children in care living in accommodation with adults who have recently left prison, who are struggling with addictions and who have mental health difficulties. The risks to children are substantial and obvious.
“None of the announcement was unexpected, though that doesn’t take away the fear and upset. I’m sure that, at some point in the future, we will collectively as a country look back to this time with huge regret and dismay and wonder what on earth possessed us to regulate the children’s care system to officially stop caring at age 16. There is no comfort in expecting this to be remedied at a later date, however, since many thousands of children will have suffered by then,” she concluded.