NCERCC brings to the attention of readers important information such as, the ban on under 16 in unregulated settings being made inoperative by Court judgements, and important new analysis of the Spending Review funding proposals for the sector finding them, for operational reasons, to be insufficient
Readers of the recent research briefing by the House of Commons Library regarding unregulated and unregistered accommodation https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7560/ need further detail in order to appreciate the report and the situation.
The report draws from published sources and it is to be understood that it cannot be in close contact with the sector.
The NCERCC analysis and response provides important additional insights and explanations for example into the lack of availability of children’s homes placements. They have not been commissioned, and this is the result of there being no strategy or planning national or regionally.
Additional references, the NCERCC research reviews regarding Distance as a factor in placement and Stability and felt security are provided to support understanding of the issues involved. The NCERC reviews show how distance is psychological not solely geographical and can be advantageous for children in various ways, safety, specialism, and choice. Importantly NCERCC states that the ‘20 mile rule’ has no basis in research. NCERCC notes that the research review provides an important extract from the Narey review regarding local, regional and national placements.
There are explanations of the necessary details to understand data regarding children going missing; the various settings that have been unhelpfully grouped together in legislation as ‘children’s homes’, residential special schools, hostels, semi and supported accommodation; the various uses made of unregulated and unregistered settings from crisis intervention to semi and supported accommodation. NCERCC explains the problems that occur when outcomes problematic behaviour is attributed to registered ‘children’s homes’ when it stems from other settings.
Clarifications and additional information is provided for example regarding the ban on under 16 in unregulated settings being made inoperative by Court judgements regarding ‘inherent jurisdiction’ and ‘imperative necessity’, both as result of the unavailability of registered homes. NCERCC sees it as vital that the statements and judgements from all Courts are read as they are of vital importance for the understanding of the situation. The judgements made by the Justices are frank and very clear. The judgements provide an evaluation of the legislation and Government action and inaction.
NCERCC explains ‘Not all children’s homes can accept all children referred an evaluation has to be made of the needs and the provision especially the already existing group of children, and also the staff group, possessing knowledge and skills and experience to meet the needs safely. It the risk or uncertainty exceeds the safety the legislation requires a home to refuse the referral.’
NCERCC notes that the increase in capacity/numbers has happened outside of this influence of Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme projects and almost all undertaken by providers.
NCERCC advises readers that the DfE in 2014 (Data Pack 2014) reported there was no basis for the assertion regarding homes being placed in cheaper and less desirable places.
NCERCC provides insight that an additional factor in expanding provision is the lack of available staff with knowledge, skills, and experience, unlikely to be able to be remedied in short order. Workforce is the major stop on more provision. This is a situation that a few have been remarking upon for over a decade, without government recognition especially after the closure of the Children’s Workforce Development Council. (see inadequacy of Govt response “developing plans supported by additional investment to support local authorities to create more places in children’s homes.” And the Children’s Commissioner “A chronic shortage of residential provision” is “at the heart of these problems,” the Commissioner said, and must be something that the care review rectifies.
The report has prompted NCERCC to refer the recent Ofsted guidance re Multi homes to the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. The focus of the Committee is that which is “politically or legally important and gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.”
One of the main arguments made for such homes is to address capacity and reduce unregulated use. The guidance has been unscrutinised by Parliament or by public consultation and has potential to affect many different aspects of social care legislation and others such as planning.
The report also prompted NCERCC to analyse the Spending Review funding proposals for the sector. For operational reasons the thinking and funding is found to be insufficient.
At the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021, the Government announced £104 million by 2024-25 “to take forwards reforms to unregulated provision in children’s social care, improving safeguarding standards for some of our most vulnerable children and young people”.
It additionally announced £259 million over the spending review period (2022- 25) “to maintain capacity and expand provision in secure and open residential children’s homes.”
(Secure children’s homes are a separate sector, and costly to build likely to take up a great deal of the funding for few places).
It is important to note that the funding is unspecified. In context, if all of the funds were directed to opening of homes £104m would maybe create approximately 50 – 60 homes, between 100-150 places. £259m when including secure accommodation that is costly to build would maybe create 100 homes and 2-300 places.
However, operationally the numbers of places would be reduced by severity and matching of needs. Children’s homes do not operate at full capacity, maybe 75-85% reducing the numbers further. Independent homes currently have one third of places unoccupied for various reasons. It may be up to one third of projected numbers of places need to be removed due to operational factors.
If the homes are to be run by LAs then numbers in the independent sector may reduce as they are not needed. Occupancy affects viability. Thus, the anticipated increase in the total numbers of homes may be less than the government envisage
The question unanswered is where is the workforce to staff them? The government investment may be looking to 150 -200 homes. 200 homes would require 3,000 new staff plus additional psychology, psychiatry, therapy, educational, and other support services.
Each 4 bedded children’s home requires approx. 15 people to staff it. Recruitment of staff is challenging, pay is an issue with public image of the work. There numbers of homes operating without Registered Managers. The lack of prospect of people desiring this role has led Ofsted to remove the exceptional from their interpretation of the legislation and enable 2 homes to have one manager. More recently the new Ofsted guidance regarding multi homes sees managers covering 3 or more homes.
An extracted paragraph from a Care review publication prompts NCERCC to state again that not all social care/work professionals agree with the government proposals regarding unregulated settings, especially the legislative aspects. There are already various schedules in the Quality Standards for children’s homes including none for secure children’s homes. A new schedule is possible and will provide safeguarding for children equal to that of other looked after children
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NCERCC analysis and response to House of Commons Research briefing 191121