We are currently seeing homes closing due to a lack of staffing and placements being turned down for similar reasons.

ICHA Response to the Care Review Call for Ideas December 2021

ICHA Response to the Care Review Call for Ideas December 2021

The Independent Children’s Homes Association Ltd (ICHA) is the voice of providers of residential child care services and resources across England and Wales. We are a Not-for-Profit Limited Company.  This response was compiled and co-produced with providers.

ICHA represents both large and small providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors.  Residential childcare is a small part of the sector as a whole and often one of the last placements for our children. We believe that the social care sector requires radical review and reformation to start to put right the anomalies and deficits in the system.  Our thoughts are summarised below.

1.       Develop a long-term strategy with cross-party support

Any recommendations in the review and potential implementations must be realistic long-term solutions and not simply a quick fix. 

The well-being of our most vulnerable children and families should be an apolitical issue. The challenge to this is the lack of political acclaim if you are not the government that introduces a new policy, an absence of effective cross-party working, and a lack of foresight by leaders. 

To realise the ambitions of the Review, the Government of today and tomorrow must agree to an extended plan of reform, in recognition that children’s lives do not get fixed in 5 years.  It is imperative that any recommendations from the Review that are to be implemented must have a cross-party commitment for a full generation. Anything less will fail children, young people, and families.

The realities of local government finances mean any changes will require ringfenced funding for the agreed period-a minimum of 15 years-that enable change to happen and the effects of any interventions to be properly assessed.

The overall effect of this would be an ability to plan services, target areas of most need, and provide long-term commitments to vulnerable groups.

2.     Develop a national awareness campaign

The looked-after world is really only understood by those people who either live or work within it. The general public’s understanding of why children become looked after is nebulous at best, including a misguided belief Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) generally only happen to other people.

The safeguarding of children is a community responsibility, but without an understanding of how to recognise the signs of ACEs and the consequences of ignoring them, we will continue to miss opportunities to intervene early enough to mitigate damage.

Schools have a part to play, not just in reporting concerns but in educating children about what is and isn’t acceptable. A child may not know they are being abused or neglected and raising their awareness, and that of their friends can ensure help gets to where it is most needed in a timely way.

The public also has to understand that carers have to be skilled and knowledgeable, and this comes at a cost. From kinship care to residential, this sector has to be recognised as providing intensive, vital work that should be professionalised and appropriately funded.

Raising public awareness will truly make safeguarding everybody’s personal responsibility. It should help raise tolerance and empathy for children affected by ACEs and done well, should:

a)      Over time reduce overall social care spending

b)      Improve outcomes for children, young people, and families

c)       Provide desperately needed help for struggling families

The challenge to this is public apathy and selective (often sensationalist) media reporting. In a digital generation, the opportunities for spreading messages are unbounded, but once they disappear from view, there is a danger that it will also disappear from the national consciousness. Any campaign needs to be sustained and repeated on a regular basis. Similarly, any education must be embedded in the national curriculum, so awareness grows from an early age.

3.     Introduce an appropriate assessment tool used across all services

consistent universal application of an assessment for children who become known to the care services is vital if we are to better understand how services and interventions impact on outcomes. This will enable better sufficiency planning and development of bespoke services. This has consistently been highlighted in research as a key deficit, including in DfE commissioned research.

The challenge to this is identifying the most appropriate tool and mandating consistency across services. The benefit would be a growing body of knowledge that would ensure services become more evidence-based and our ability to effectively help this cohort of young people to heal, reducing the need for additional services throughout their lifetimes.

4.     Improve early intervention

When schools, childminders, nurseries and members of the public report their concerns, there have to be sufficient, targeted services that can support families and intervene where needed to protect children from further harm. Social workers should be specialists in specific client groups and community support exemplary.

5.     Educate future parents

Positive parenting should be mandatory training in all schools and colleges, and social care services recognised for the specialist field it has become.

6.     Properly value all forms of care

When relatives step in to look after these young people, they must have sufficient financial means so that the family is not disadvantaged, allowing them to provide a fulfilling childhood instead of scraping by, as happens to many kinship carers[1].  Any job that covers 24 hours, 365 days a year, should be properly financially supported. Kinship care is too often used as a cheap option and regularly falls on grandparents. There are instances of kinship carers becoming homeless due to their altruism-this cannot help the young people.

Well-run children’s homes reflect a normal household, except that carers work in shifts. The children are loved, supported, encouraged, and championed in all settings but whilst residential prices reflect a more accurate price of care, kinship and fostering receive wages of around £2.67 an hour, well below the hourly rate for a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year job. Should these carers demand their true worth, services would collapse. Instead, we champion them as angels and super-human beings in order to divert our attention away from the financial inequality paid for by their expertise.

Accurate costings that reflect the true cost of care should be developed and applied to all settings. With a national awareness campaign, acceptance of these costs should be greater in the general populace. With early intervention and consistent assessment, the numbers entering care should be reduced.

7.     Use what we’ve got differently and better

Children’s homes are generally places of warmth and love with knowledgeable, caring staff. However, they continue to be seen as placement of last resort. This thinking needs to change. There are advantages to using children’s homes proactively.

The nature of rotas means that staff are refreshed. Unlike foster and kinship carers, staff can go off shift and recharge, reflecting the significantly higher needs of the children and young people they care for. Again, unlike foster and kinship carers, staff have colleagues to support them ‘in the moment,’ when they may be struggling, and children have a choice of who they go to.

We know that some children do not want another ‘family’, we also know that a significant proportion of children will have a number of foster placements before moving to residential. This benefits no one and belies the myth that foster placements are always best.

We propose that there should be more innovative uses of residential homes such as providing short, targeted stays, working intensively with the young person and future foster carer. The placements would have clear exit strategies from the time of commencement and the child, and their family would be more directly involved with their care. It would be a safe environment where potential relationships with foster carers could fail, safely, until the right match is identified, whilst ensuring that the young person remains in one place. For all children, this increases the chances of stable, long-term placements and increases their potential for better life chances on leaving care.

Early use of residential placements is supported by the NAFP and ICHA.

One of the biggest challenges is changing people’s minds about residential care. This can only be done through raising awareness of the sector and the children who use it.

8.     Improve Recruitment & Retention/Sector profile

We cannot maintain the residential sector without a continual and sufficient workforce supply. To do this, the profile of the sector and careers in residential childcare need to be improved and raised. We are a small sector despite the eye-watering numbers of children who require services. Our profile is either negative (hostile media) or fantastical (Tracey Beaker).

We believe a national campaign to raise awareness of Residential care (as was done for Fostering) as a viable career option should be organised by the sector and backed by the Government similar to the current campaign for Adult Social Care.

9.      Establish Professional Registration and Pathways into care

Carers already undertake diverse training but there is no professional pathway into and through this sector. We are currently seeing homes closing due to a lack of staffing and placements being turned down for similar reasons. Not only are we failing to attract high caliber candidates such as graduates, but the sector is also failing to attract basic entry staff with a background that would make them perfect for these roles.

Residential care is not viewed as a profession and fostering appears to be seen by most as an altruistic calling. Neither is true. All people within this sector should offer evidence-based, trauma-informed care at a minimum. This requires a degree of standardisation regarding appropriate training. Whilst the QCF provides some of this, it is insufficient for all grades of staff. We should be aspirational, exploring a Manager’s degree and college training for all other grades. 

Colleges and universities could, and arguably should provide courses specialising in children’s social care. Better use of the apprenticeships should be explored with direct links to the college curriculums and care experienced people should be better supported to work in this sector.

To further this professionalisation, a body separate from Ofsted should register employees. It would be responsible for ensuring that qualifications remain up to date and professional misconduct is appropriately registered. In this way, the portability of registrations would become a reality and the safeguarding of children, increased.

Peter Sandiford

on behalf of ICHA

07597 982533