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An Existential Risk Is Posed To Residential Child Care By The Care Review.

An Existential Risk is Posed to Residential Child Care by the Care Review.

On page 62 the Case for Change asks “a broader question about whether children’s homes are the right long term option for children in care and the extent to which they should play a role in our long term vision for care”. It is asked again on page 72. It is  not a slip but signals an intention.

Though it seeks “the right homes in the right places with the right support” the role of residential child care is left open, “What role should residential and secure homes have in the future?” (71).

So a future, but one that is, at best, uncertain.

There is one positive evaluation of Residential Child Care included from the (previous) Children’s Commissioner; “Good children’s homes do exist in England…. homes which children have told us they experience as loving and supportive and the best place for them to be; homes that engage and involve children’s families; homes that provide therapeutic care, access to a good education and experience of the wider world.”

This is followed by “Unfortunately, too many children do not get this experience” and descriptions.” This is the pattern of the Case for Change when addressing Residential Child Care, any positive is followed by a negative; it could be called balanced reporting, “The quality of homes continue to be raised with the review and whilst some point to the high proportion that receive a good or outstanding Ofsted rating (95% of inspection outcomes – NCERCC addition), others have questioned whether these ratings are linked enough to children’s experience”.

These equivocal highpoints are within an environment of a publication that is not supportive of Residential Child Care, where it is repeatedly not seen in its own right but only in comparison and then only to assert its detriment. “At a time of wider budgetary pressures, local authorities trying to balance their books are increasingly stuck in a cycle of spending more on short-term reactive interventions, including the most drastic measure of moving children away from their family to live in a residential home, at the cost of the preventative work that could lead to better long-term outcomes for children and families (73) … Throughout the system there are opportunities for things to both work better as well as cost less – avoiding parents having repeat removals, taking fewer children into care by supporting families where possible, making better use of kinship arrangements, avoiding children entering costly residential and secure placements, curbing profit and reducing the number of agency social workers. (73)

The Care Review has not undertaken a cultural review or adopted a social constructionist view of children’s social care and especially so when throughout it takes and uncritical understanding of the uniquely English ‘last resort’ use of Residential Child Care. In few countries is Residential Child Care used as a last resort, access by sequential placement breakdowns, choice of care setting achieved hierarchically. How is it that we have made the use of Residential Child Care this way? A way that others in the world do not use it.

For some years NCERCC has been stating that England has had the lowest number of residential places in history and that there was a need for more. NCERCC termed the phrase ‘right homes in the right places at the right time for the right child’ over a decade ago. It is only recently that other people have realised there is the need for more residential child care places. The Care Review sees it too, “There are not enough homes in the right places with the right support” (58). NCERCC has explained some strategies that could be helpful, we have said as the Care Review now says, “Fixing this in the long term will take bold and focused action, however, we cannot ignore the current issues and the impact they are having daily on the lives of children.” (58)

“The review is concerned about the cost, profit, and financial health of providers and the impact of the current system on children. We want a pragmatic re-think given the urgent problems, the complexity of the issues and the fragility of the current system”. (58)

The Care Review has much to do to add to its knowledge and understanding of Residential Child Care.

It has to be absolutely certain that it is does not create an existential risk to Residential Child Care. It needs a strategy that starts from a granular needs analysis the plan for the future starts from needs.

I had it explained to me that the reason why sufficiency and not a needs analysis is the current expectation is because a needs analysis would show the need for more settings to meet high level and complex needs. It would require more residential resources. It would require more funding for children’s services.

This is why the Care Review has to challenge its terms of reference and propose more funding.

In the Case for Change the current spending on for profit Residential Child Care is subtlely presented as the solution for all of children’s services funding woes. It isn’t. It isn’t in the amount spent. It isn’t because if the idea is to move to local authority homes these cost about 33% more than the independent sector according the PSSRU Unit Costs report. Funding is choice, but to move from where we are to where you would want to be requires a plan, a plan requires funding. If you wish to end private social care it will require funding that will enable a disinvestment whilst continuing the services. This is not only about finance, or morals, or ethics, but real life. Occupancy is key to any home for the equilibrium vialbility of its finances, but importantly also its the culture and dynamics. This is the case no matter the organisation that is the provider, LA or private or voluntary organisation. It is not a case of the local state taking over the running of children’s homes. This will require legislation. We have no legal means to take over the running of homes. NCERCC has repeatedly issued reminders. (For the record, NCERCC position is that care should be definancialised and a National Children’s Care Service established, nationally and regionally planned, locally delivered and accountable. We hold no banner for any of the 3 current types of ownership).

The Case for Change describes the care system as Jenga with Sellotape (NCERCC has often used the Jenga analogy). Removing any piece requires thinking about what might happen. Removing the Residential Child Care piece might have devastating effects. The role and function of Residential Child Care is well researched, well documented. The Care Review needs to adopt a role and function approach that meets needs. It appears to be redefining needs and finding approaches to fit.

As it currently constituted the Care Review and its Case for Change pose an existential risk to Residential Child Care. It is not too late. A climate change is needed.

This is explored in the new NCERCC document ‘It’s risky out there – the Care Review and its existential risk to Residential Child Care’.

NCERCC has also published a NCERCC easy guide here

What does the Care review Case for Change say about Residential Child Care?

Extracts of all entries + page numbers from the Case for Change here.