Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Comments on Mr Timpson’s Response to Craig Whittaker’s Speech Last Night....

We’ll start with Mr Timpson’s positive comments.  The Minister helpfully agreed that residential care is not a ‘last resort’ and young people should be able to remain in placement, when in their best interests to do so.  That is very welcome.

Mr Timpson’s commissioning of the National Children’s Bureau, The Who Cares? Trust and Catch 22 ‘to look at Staying Put arrangements in children’s homes over the coming year’ is also very welcome. 

However, the way the Minister described this step was ambiguous and this is an issue which needs clarity. The evaluation and discussion cannot be allowed to drag on interminably.

That said, this was the one significant new initiative.

Some of the Minister’s other comments relied on questionable or unreliable data. For example, Mr Timpson cited the Care Leavers’ Charter, saying over 120 authorities had signed up to support children in care up to age 21. He should have added this is entirely voluntary, unenforced by regulation and isn’t centrally monitored.

We are already aware of signatory councils who don’t implement the Charter: voluntary arrangements provide no sort of safety net for care leavers.

Mr Timpson spoke of ISA’s for young people leaving care; more generous leaving care allowances and the requirement for Directors of Children’s Services to sign off pathway planning.

Practical measures and support like this is commendable – but what about ensuring a statutory entitlement to the less tangible but nevertheless crucial emotional and parenting support for young people in care?

Mr Timpson said that local authorities are already able to support people beyond the age of 18 years in children’s homes and aware of some councils doing this. Also, that many young people left residential care to move into adult care.  We assume he is referring to young people with disabilities in both those instances. 

However, we are not aware of any local authority supporting young people beyond 18 in children’s homes.  And even if there were, there is no additional funding to support this.

Mr Timpson expressed caution about allowing young people to remain in children’s homes, lest they alter the registration status of the home. This is an interesting legal and regulatory issue which needs to be addressed: and as the Minister said, the difficulties presented are not insurmountable.

In response to Mr Whittaker’s comments about Ofsted’s positive judgements of 400 children’s homes, the Minister pointed out that this was under the old Ofsted inspection regime which was being enhanced to ‘push up’ quality and standards. 

While this may be factually correct, there is no evidence suggesting that Ofsted have failed to pick up on poor practice and poor standards in children’s homes. If anything, a new regime should ensure standards are improved further. One step in that direction would be for young people from care or young care-leavers to be part of the inspection team. How about it, Ofsted?

There is no routine follow up of every young person who has left care to review the success or otherwise of aftercare planning and outcomes.  Young people in children’s homes may still not be seen or spoken with by an Inspector, and questionnaires circulated by Ofsted may not include young people placed at the home at the time of inspection.

There is a great deal of scope to improve both monitoring and regulation by involving young people from care and young care leavers in inspection teams and in the routine “Regulation 33” monitoring visits each month. If Mr Timpson is looking for confidence that outcomes and standards of care given to young people are accurately assessed, this is the silver bullet which delivers it.

The Minister also expressed concern that there were ‘too many’ children’s homes still not operating at a good enough standard. Yet since Ofsted have regulatory powers to take enforcement action or even close children’s home in those cases, either few children’s homes are giving serious concern, or Ofsted are not doing their job.

We welcome genuine attempts to raise standards of care and safeguarding children and young people. This is why we seek similar initiatives for foster care.

Children and young people being fostered have the same issues as their peers in children’s homes. This is the core rationale behind the campaign for legal parity: before discrimination and the unintended consequence of a ‘two tier’ care system develops.

Mr Timpson recognises that many young people from residential care have been unhappy about arrangements to support them once they leave care. So are we – that’s why we seek parity.  

For now, though, we have a new inquiry by the Education Select Committee into post 16 care options specifically looking at residential care....this is good. This is very good!

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