Insistent, persistent and consistent leadership for children's homes would do much to provide continuity and inspiration as the residential child care sector undergoes reforms proposed by the government. The Independent Children's Homes Association supports reform more generally, and played a role in formulating the proposed reforms now open for public consultation.
The process of reform would be helped immeasurably with an independent leadership body able to do the right thing despite individual foibles or wider fashions that can act to deny a young person the residential option they need.
The ICHA will argue for such a body in its evidence to the Education Select Committee's enquiry into whether the DfE's proposed reforms to the regulation of residential children's homes are appropriate and sufficient, whether the reforms are likely to prove effective or further measures are needed.
For nearly two years there have been deliberations about children's homes, and I've been party to many of them. This includes the Education Department's Expert Reference group on residential child care that concluded at the end of last year.
The published report of these discussions cannot do justice to the group's wide ranging and detailed deliberations. The discussions were as much about whole-system reform as specifics that needed urgent attention. Some of the recommendations for action are out for consultation now. Many I speak with are now seeing the proposals not as the radical and comprehensive change that is needed, helpful, but not providing leadership for change.
None of the discussions took place in the public gaze. That might have been difficult given the negativity then directed at children's homes and with very few people willing to support sophistication rather than the often simplistic sound bites.
Public discussions could have encouraged balanced reporting of the positives too which has been missing from mainstream media. Many briefings were given, much was omitted. I can show you the corrections sought and complaints made. One day we may come to know why these choices were made.
So whilst we might argue about the type of organisation we need to exercise leadership there are some examples we might consider.
Former Care Services Minister Paul Burstow MP will be chairing the year-long Commission on Residential Care, established by think-tank Demos, to examine how elderly care homes can become a more valued part of the spectrum of care.
It will reappraise residential care and address negative stereotypes of residential care fuelled by media reporting. Paul Burstow says: "Media reporting of care has fuelled the negative stereotype. Yet care homes can be places of light and laughter, and a home from home."
Demos tells us that: '"The sector is at a crossroads, when it can no longer continue with business as usual. It is with these pressures in mind that the Commission on Residential Care has been formed to establish the proper role of residential care in a modern care system. It will envision a care sector that is financially sustainable and consistently delivers personalised care that empowers individuals to be as independent as possible within a supportive community."
This is excellent news, but it is only for adult care.
The words 'home from home' echo a title from the Residential Forum 'Creating a home from home.' The Residential Forum was founded in 1994 on the initiative of Dame Gillian Wagner and with the support of the National Institute for Social Work. It continues to outline a vision for residential care and a strategy for its development. http://residentialforum.com/ One of its members is on the Demos team.
The Wagner report, Residential Care: A Positive Choice, 1988 was published when the debate concerning the future of both residential and community care was widely discussed and tried to raise the profile of residential care. Reasserting its value, 'A Positive Choice' sought to shift the emphasis away from the view that residential care is the 'last resort' and to value its role as a vital part of community care.
Let me quote from a 2011 Residential Forum publication. It tells us what we need right now:
"At this time of financial constraint it is essential that all those involved in the provision of residential care decide what we want the service to do.... The present financial position demands real leadership from government, senior figures in residential care, providers and managers of homes... how we define residential care alongside other social care provision to determine a strategy for the future. The residential sector needs to lead the approach to best value care. The sector needs to take far more responsibility for how it portrays itself. We know the message we want to give but must improve our ability to do so. If we are confident about the benefits of residential care we have no need to argue in isolation and we should work with other sectors to promote the best value, improve quality and standards....The Residential Forum believes that we must get over the message loud and clear that for some people residential care is the most appropriate option and within that resource positive choices are essential.'
Finally, let me leave you with inspiration, not from politicians, policy makers or even providers but from a woman who has positive experiences of children's homes, Jenny Molloy a.k.a. Hope Daniels author of ' Hackney Child.
Let her tell it like it is. She's the sort of informed, committed and passionate leadership we need.