EastEnders actress Pam St Clements recently told the Guardian that she preferred fostering to children's homes.
She said "I'm very, very strongly in favour of giving people the opportunity of a family. Today, people wanting to enter the fostering system have to jump through a lot of hoops. There have to be legal parameters, but I still think a family that is not 100% perfect is better than a children's home. It's got to be. I didn't have to spend any time in a children's home, thank goodness. I agree with the discipline that a children's home would encourage and foster, but it is also instilling in a child that they are just something that can be put away. It's like kennelling a dog. Nobody is really caring."
Children and young people living in children's homes, and the grown-ups involved in creating the positive environments necessary to meet the needs of young our most needy young people, will be shocked by her comments.
Many young people say a children's home is exactly where they want to be. Perhaps with as many as five or more fostering breakdowns per year and a not uncommon total of over thirty, young people arrive at a children's home where they tell the people caring for them they feel understood and their needs met for the first time.
Our current system sabotages a young person's future when on average according to official figures they arrive at a children's home when they are over 15 and stay for only six months. Those crucial relationships are given precious little time to be established.
Although fewer than one-fifth now stay longer than a year, many young people return regularly to 'their' children's home to carry on the relationships with their 'key person' through the years. They may say they are coming for Sunday lunch or to do their washing but it is to continue the relationships that have helped recover their life and which continue to nurture and support them throughout their adult lives.
Children's homes can provide the upbringing a young people deserves. Opportunities struggled for and achieved despite a system that actively undermines such success deserves national public recognition. Imagine the self-esteem that would be shared by young people and staff. Imagine the change in public perception.
Many children's homes see their work as professional parenting. Relationships are central to modern residential child care. They are the foundation for the National Minimum Standards with which all homes must comply and the quality of care is inspected by Ofsted. Year on year the children's homes sector has improved its compliance, a point noted in successive Chief Inspectors' annual reports.
The first result of this summer's work currently being undertaken by the Department for Education on the 'reform of residential care' comes at the end of this month. The ICHA has been an active contributor to the expert groups on all matters.
This work must have two main ambitions. Firstly, it must ensure that every placement is matched to need as identified by a thorough social work assessment not limited by prejudice that tries family-based care with serial breakdowns damaging a young person's trust in grown-ups, nor limited by weighting costs over care considerations.
Secondly, it is not only administrative changes to a whole professional system that is required but a public information campaign so that children's homes are equal with fostering in the public mind.
A short while ago I was asked by someone for images of a children's home. When provided the response was that they "looked just like a family home." Disbelief of equal measure followed my telling the enquirer that young people did not wear uniforms but wear what any young person does to be fashionable. Both are an example of positive 'corporate parenting' by a partnership of 'parents' - local authority and provider.
An informed evidence base publicly available would help dispel these and other lingering ideas of children's homes. Most are small, fewer than five young people, and designed to provide homely environments. 76% cent of the nearly 2,000 English children's homes are provided by privately funded providers who have one home, or a small number of homes, who see an unmet need and find a unique way to meet it they found hard to do when working for local authorities. Large corporately funded chains are the minority of the sector.
The public must feel assured in the reasons why a young person might need a children's home over family-based care. Some young people have such disability or social, emotional and behavioural needs, that they must have more than a family-based care. It is the right placement at the right time that must be made.
It is an uphill struggle to convey the positive picture alongside the urgent issues that need attention.
Many local communities have been outraged at the recent media coverage of life in children's homes. The media snapshots offered in recent weeks have left supportive communities and 'the children's home down my street' feeling misrepresented. Pam just adds to this inaccurate picture.
Children's homes need public champions and understanding. I anticipate many providers and young people proudly inviting Pam and other public figures to spend a day and "come and see my home."