We understand the Care Review to be developing its thinking around the ideas that the right child in the right place at the right time needs the right people delivering the right response.
NCERCC continues to engage in reflective appraisal of the Care Review activity; co-terminously we are progressing our analysis of residential child care issues. This last year has seen us in steady ‘archaeological’ uncovering of deep issues making connections across and between themes.
Our most recent working updating the professional practice standards for residential child care workers using current, past, and international examples has revealed a significant insight.
This insight must be addressed in the final conclusions and report of the Care Review as not to do so will at least undermine, and probably prevent, any progress regarding this important sector.
The issue is all more urgent given the recent government actions, the funding of a small number of new homes by local authorities and extensions to existing secure children’s homes, and the creation of multiple children’s homes under a single registration on one site, bringing concerns of generic admissions.
Our concern is that these actions address issues in terms of numbers of places.
Any admission must match, and risk assess, to the group of young people already in residence and the effect the new person will have on the group. Staff must have the knowledge, skills, and experience to meet the needs of each the children. Vacancies would be filled if it were possible. It would not be, indeed it is not, good practice for all children’s homes to work with all children in all circumstances. Good practice is not generic but the specialist responses to the range of children’s needs that many homes have been evolving into over the decades.
Across residential child care options there are insufficient places for children with high level and complex needs. The numbers are rising.
The NCERCC perspective is that it is not an issue of numbers but of needs and the opportunity to make the right response to them. A necessary strategy would bring a resilient resourceful response. Situating the issue in numbers avoids the underlying malaise. What is needed to overcome the current situation of insufficient homes/places is a workforce development strategy, a review of the professional practice standards, the addressing of low pay.
NCERCC recent observations are that new homes often are being opened by people inexperienced or lesser experienced in RCC, leaders, managers, and funders.
Evaluating the recent Ofsted outcomes of inspection of new homes the increasing numerical sufficiency seems to be bringing a temporary moment of relief but over a short time it has led to continued ‘churn’ for children as service users as new services do not match need – being generalist rather than specialist.
We have considered the factors leading to this situation and have concluded that there is one major factor that connects to all the others and if not resolved will undermine any progress.
Our insight is that the root is of a lack of attention to the professional requirements of being a Residential Child Care Worker (RCCW).
The Level 3 and Level 5 were brought in at the time of National Minimum Standards (NMS). There has been recognition that NMS were inadequate and needed to be enhanced; furthermore; we needed Quality Standards and as a positive consequence of this the ‘raising of the bar’ of inspection framework followed. However, there was no commensurate change to the content and requirements for relevant qualifications for those now working to Quality Standards whilst still being judged against training standards designed to meet the NMS.
One aspect of the current shortfall is that many homes have staff teams that work to a set of training and qualification parameters that does not include the knowledge and skills to meet the high level and complex needs of the children being referred. In this situation homes must uphold matching and impact risk assessments and not proceed with inappropriate admissions. This leads to vacancies based on sound safeguarding foundations and judgements.
An expansion of numbers of homes in itself will not meet this situation.
To effect a resilient growth in the sector there is the need to upskill the RCCW workforce.
This cannot happen with the current L 3,4 5. In reviewing them we have found them to be inadequately preparing the workforce to meet the high level and complex presenting needs of the children being referred. They are inadequate descriptors of the role and task required to meet the current situation.
In our view a radical rewriting of the Prof Practice Standards is required.
This situation is serious, and the response must be urgent.
The appropriate response is to raise knowledge and skills requirements.
Ofsted is adhering to the current regulations and outcomes are meeting requirements according to current numbers and requirements of knowledge and skills i.e., the current L 3,4,5. Ofsted are doing their job.
The most recent development was the ‘Apprenticeship standards.’ In our view these represent a dilution of the expectations for a L3.
With hindsight these needed greater insistence, input, and recognition by people with high level and complex needs experience.
There is no doubt that many providers and practitioners exceed the L3 and L5 by design both personally and organisationally. However, this is in spite of, rather than because of the qualification requirements.
There is a recruitment crisis. The numbers and qualities of those applying are not adequate. Our considered view is that included in the primary reasons for this are low salaries and limited or minimal benefits.
In the face of this we anticipate that a move to increase qualification requirements could be resisted as deterring applicants.
Our view is that such resistance would be based not on an assessment of need and provision but on grounds of expediency.
Any move to increase qualification requirements will affect the level of profit.
NCERCC understands the current profit making has two roots, profit based on investment made possible by low interest rates, and low wages that are determined by the sector being low skill. Profits only come from the endeavours of the workforce and the remuneration given.
Here we come to the nub of the matter.
Low skill is determined by the low qualification threshold to meet current regulation.
Low skill makes for low pay, as above profits only come from the work and pay of the workforce.
The product of this situation is then that the Care Review, or any activity, will fail if there is no attention to qualifications.
We have seen the intention of the Care Review to address profit.
There must be equal, or greater, certainly prior attention and radical change to the Professional Practice Standards and thereby the pay to attract the right people to deliver the right response. Only through this sequence do we get to the place of the right child in the right place at the right time needs the right people delivering the right response.
Without this change we face a future of continued even increased velocity and volatility of children as we desperately seek the right response to their needs.
Our conclusion is that the L4 as devised by CWDC provides the basis to be the new L3. This then creates the firm base for the L5 expansion. We have already started this work with some providers and would be pleased to share our work with you should wish.