The needs of children and young people coming into care have changed in a generation and their profile seems to reflect changes in our society.

ICHA response to the Case for Change

The Independent Children’s Homes Association Ltd is the not-for-profit membership organisation representing providers of residential childcare in the private, voluntary, and public sectors.

The ICHA has chosen not to respond to the individual questions on the Case for Change website, but instead to do a general response.

ICHA response to the Case for Change

The needs of children and young people coming into care have changed in a generation and their profile seems to reflect changes in our society. Whilst ‘care’ originally focussed on children with visible disabilities, our understanding of their needs has developed, and it is those with hidden, developmental issues arising from adverse childhood experiences, and those subject to predatory gangs and criminals who now present the biggest need. Unfortunately, today’s social care sector’s responses have not evolved at the same rate as their understanding.

At the current time, young people with entrenched behaviours and complex needs are coming into care later and there is an unreasonable expectation that the sector can change their lives in a few short years. Equally, many younger children are experiencing frequent placement moves when foster carers are unable to meet their challenging needs in a family home.

Better use of current children’s placements from respite to supported living is known to reduce the amount of time in care and support positive reunification. Family hubs, short break homes for children with complex emotional needs, earlier use of residential care facilities that work closely with foster families, and better, more focussed transitional facilities will all benefit our children and young people.

To be effective, care should be provided in the place that is best suited to the needs of the child and in the way that best meets their need, whether it is local or more distant.

The current sufficiency issues reflect, amongst other factors, the historical location of homes, changes in regulation, the changing face of children’s needs, and a significant decrease in social care funding. As a result, local authorities have become more focussed on local placements at a decreased price. This has in turn fed into a feeding frenzy of unfounded blame regarding cost, and a subsequent polarising of public and independent services. The rhetoric of the Care Review seems to want to increase this divide without paying heed to facts[1].  ICHA, therefore, calls on the Care Review to give equal weight to all parties, recognising the wealth of expertise and knowledge across the provider spectrum. We believe that this can best be done by engaging in respectful dialogue and the use of well-researched evidence.

ICHA believes that the core purpose of social care is to prevent, protect and support. Prevent entrenched, lifelong harm by intervening earlier; protect those children living in unsafe and uncaring environments, and support families and communities through effective welfare services that prevent those situations from proliferating. To achieve this, funds must be adequate to meet need, and efficiently targeted at our most vulnerable communities. The funding needs to be far reaching and establish strong foundations aimed at changing things for this and future generations.

Austerity measures have brought about an increase in poverty with a concurrent diminution in community support that provided vital relief. The ICHA is therefore concerned that a call for better-funded services is not at the heart of this report, as increased funding plus more efficient use of capital would undoubtedly go a long way to helping us out of this mess.

The CFC reports that social workers at the frontline feel under-skilled, poorly supported, and ill-prepared. Reviewing and refocussing social care training would be a spectacular underpinning step for sustainable change. Recognising that social care is a continuum that requires equally skilled practitioners across all areas is vital. A national training scheme that provides interlinking career pathways from carer to social worker would enhance shared understanding and promote cooperation, across services, to the benefit of clients. Providing a national register will also ensure the sector is afforded the professional recognition it needs and ensures that more people are attracted to the sector.

To support this, we would also call on the Care Review to be even more ambitious and make a commitment to raise the national understanding of the effects of trauma and adverse childhood experiences that bring children into care in the first place.

In Conclusion

The Care Review has a massive task, and the focus is so widespread that we fear that its actual impact may be minimal. We have encountered a similar problem in how to respond.

In recent discussions, our members reflected this lack of faith, but we truly hope they are wrong. We further believe that a bottom-up approach is required. Get the foundations right and build. To this end, we, therefore, reiterate the call for better, more balanced dialogue during the next stages and a focus on changing things for years to come, not just the immediate future.

[1] Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2020 | PSSRU