There are plenty of positive stories that happen daily in the children's homes. My recent experience has confirmed that you don't have to look hard to find the good news, it's common. Fun, smiles, caring about each other, laughter, understanding, achievement, progress, all of these things happen every day, the same as in any family anywhere. Being a created family is one way of looking at children's homes.
Doubt and fear of getting it wrong must play on people's minds even if they are worried. Often there are no obvious, physical signs of neglect. But if a child you know shows signs of not being fed or clothed properly, is missing school a lot or is left unsupervised and alone inappropriately for their age, we urge people to alert the professionals. I remember speaking to Claire [not her real name], one of our many fantastic foster carers. She has been looking after a 15-year-old boy who came into her care about two years ago, having suffered years of neglect. She spoke of how he looked like an 'eight-year-old' because he had been so badly underfed...
We need new thinking about the operating environment we currently frame as a 'marketplace'. We need a courageous, informed articulation of what is happening now, and the start of the thinking that can move us towards a method of effective working, both for quality of care and the health of our finances.
Former children's minister Tim Loughton said last week that improving educational outcomes is the key to tackling youth unemployment. He's absolutely right, and it is early intervention programmes like ours that can help to ensure the most disadvantaged young children and teenagers are able to achieve their full academic, and personal, potential.
The gap between the rhetoric and the reality of Government proposals for children's homes is increasingly deep. I am increasingly at a loss to find a way to help Ministers find the empathy for the situation the sector now finds itself placed in. We need our Ministers to be role models of effective child care policy and practice, and essential for good residential child care is something called reflective practice.
Children's homes providers, Local Authorities and Government are united in the aim that the right placement is made at the right time for the right child at the right cost. If are to match the Secretary of State's ambitions we need to be bold and address all the issues we face reforming not only children's homes but Children's Services more widely.