Children’s homes inquiry latest – the Education Select Committee has to stick with evidence, stay with evidence, challenge evidence about children’s homes
When the committee was provided with robust evidence it was useful. When witnesses drifted to unevidenced or interpretation there might be potential for the committee to come to misplaced judgements.
The committee need to review the proceedings and are urged to stick with the evidence, stay with the evidence, challenge people’s evidence and request citation.
There was refreshing openness to include the actions or inactions of the state for the current situation. For example, Lord Adonis spoke of the need for ongoing professional social work support for children being a ‘fundamental state failure’. Anne Longfield gave many examples of the effects of social worker turnover, a recurring theme.
Josh MacAllister speaking positively and with clarity about residential options is new and welcome. In relation to education outcomes of children in children’s homes he explained to the committee and his fellow panel members of the need to recognise the significance of the effects of the turbulence of adverse life experiences on children. He explained how it is that education, health, employment experiences and outcomes are affected. He showed a correlation of events ‘upstream; that can be visible when a child arrives at a children’s home. He was clear that it is not the children’s home that is the causative factor.
There was a worrying perseverance of Committee members repeatedly seeking to connect current education outcomes with the overall Ofsted inspection outcomes of a home. A home can be supportive of children’s education, doing great work inside and outside the home, and education outcomes of the children remain beneath the rest of the population of children. A children’s home needs to be approached as an education recovery zone. It needs first emotional security, difficult when stays are less than 3 months, then educational engagement, achievement, and attainment will flow. It is scientific to understand the correlation of a child’s history that a residential setting can provide, it provides context. It is unscientific to draw a direct causative link. As Josh MacAllister said, ‘We need to be clearer on progress that can be done in the short time in the homes and of their life before’.
This was one of many examples where he showed he has identified the veracity of the issues that a number of us have been speaking on over years over the use of residential child care, ‘Is it a bridging space to permanence where young people will grow up in or an opportunity for long term 2-to-3-year work on trauma.’ He explained that the view taken will have differences on educational outcomes.
He also spoke with great clarity regarding commissioning, expressing scepticism of current commissioning arrangements; ‘Are we going to get a solution by more tinkering with commissioning arrangements or something more radical that creates a situation that is where and what is planned’.
The committee have the opportunity to research and evidence the thinking regarding some issues raised. The location of children’s homes and ‘property values’ was researched in 2014 DfE (See Data Pack) and no correlation was found. Though there may be homes in areas that are relatively cheaper, it is know that the homes themselves may not be. There are homes in leafy suburbs that may within a postcode and erroneous interpretations and extensions of thinking applied. A report on the current position of homes in Margate will assist the Committee. It will show that the numbers of homes decreased markedly, that they have had positive inspection histories and were long-time decades long residents before neighbourhoods changed, and that the homes worked positively with other agencies creating a positive safeguarding culture.
Work is needed on some issues for the Committee to be certain of the evidence, for example, profits. (see “We’ve compared the markets now’s the time to compare the meerkats” – NCERCC), and the involvement of the local state in the development and activity of markets. The national and local state have actively been pursuing the shaping of the market. In many eyes it is a monopsony with the state in the dominant position. NCERCC has always held the view that it is a choice by a state how they wish care to be provided. NCERCC sees the necessity for a national children’s care service. It also sees it perfectly possible for local authorities to open their own homes or to work collaboratively with providers or to set terms and conditions for purchasing. The Committee may wish to research these areas. If there are concerns as expressed by David Simmonds of being ‘at the mercy of the market’ steps can be taken to curb or to do without a market.
Josh MacAllister spoke of the need for nurturing life-long loving relationships. He has not yet to our knowledge said these can and do happen in children’s homes. He spoke positively of Staying Close yet perhaps could have also extended his comments to say this could mean an end to Leaving Care and the beginning of Continuing Care and Through Care in England. He linked the quality of the people involved in caring and the right planning rather than commissioning. NCERCC has continuously explained the need to plan the workforce recruitment, development, and support alongside the planning for what we need and where we need it. His talk of planning a way forwards it be supported rather than ‘disrupting the system’ as advocated by another witness.
Josh MacAllister was forthright in saying, ‘We should stop Unregulated once and for all.’ This is important as it comes the day after the consultation closed. He now needs to go further and support care as being essential for all children and against the current proposals for what are now commonly known as the ‘careless’ standards, as they identify on support as needed. This is the only logical position possible from his words today.
He missed linking social work training and the need for the return of the residential placements. By experience social workers could be practically linking theory and practice. This would make the difference the Committee were seeking.
There is still much to be dispelled from the Committee’s minds regarding children’s homes and education. The impact on adverse life experiences on children and their emotional, behavioural, and cognitive development needs further exploration by them, as does the risk averse actions of schools in not accepting children from children’s homes in contradiction to the Admissions Code that would given looked after children priority admission. The situation is much more complex than the Committee seem willing to accept. The responsibility of schools must be seen as a factor. Irrespective of a home being a ‘pushy parent’ the ways schools avoid admissions have been documented and shared with DfE.