The Ofsted 2016 Social Care report is a confirmation of our children's services and the quality positive contribution of our children's homes.
Children's homes have endured their own Resxit, years of misinformation preventing positive planning of strategy. The evidence in the report is a spur for us all to put the splitting off of any sector behind us. The message of the report is one the Independent Children's Homes Association has patiently been stating for several years, that it is time to look at leadership leading a renewal of our children's services, a renewal based on the most effective use of each setting and service, an integration where all placements are used positively.
The report tells us improvement comes through leadership and in a culture where good practice can flourish, and where there is spending on the right things, effective things.
The care system can be good for children and young people. Researchers have said it before. Detractors said these were small samples and brushed them away. Now it's Her Majesty's Inspectorate showing it and saying it. It is our professional task to protect and promote this evidence.
The unrelenting message must be on positive practice. We must not let there be any reductive misunderstanding about it not being about how much you spend. The message of the report is that spending on the right things matters, the right placement at the right time, the right placement first time. One local authority has increased its numbers of residential placements, is increasing outcomes, and is spending less because of targeted placement making. Contrast this then to others who seek to reduce their numbers in residential care. Caring for children needs to be precision work rather than the pass the parcel that is a result of chasing a price-point. We need to invest in what is effective.
The report shows children's homes are overwhelmingly giving young people good and outstanding care. Yet there will still be those who still will not accept the evidence. They may remark outcomes are poorer than for other placement types.
The report gives us opportunity to reflect on what we know about the quality of all placements options. Ofsted inspection tells us the quality of all placement options except that of individual fostering placements. It's not an impossible task. There are about 50,000 childminders inspected by Ofsted and the same number of fostering placements. We need to know the quality of all options so as to make efficient placements.
From a position of strength of evidence let's review the attribution of the poor outcomes from children's homes.
We know that young people who live in children's homes are six times as likely to have mental health problems compared to other looked after children. These are unlikely to have emerged at the average age of a child arriving at a children's home, around 15 years of age. It might be a factor for the 29% of children in children's homes having at least 5 previous placements.
One factor for young people living in children's homes having had more placements than children in foster care is because they can have significant emotional, social and behavioural difficulties.
We could be using our children's homes positively. We have good social work and psychology assessments available that can make the right placement first time. Frequently young people arrive in mid-adolescence, with many years of their needs being unmet in double-digit fostering placements, struggling in several schools, without CAMHS support, until a children's home is sought. We know a secure base emotionally is crucial educationally; emotional security leads directly to educational engagement, advancement and achievement. We know that educational growth can be rapid on experiencing a settled matched residential placement.
If we are to make best use of all placements we have to have an audacious openness to the reality that these required supports were not provided for the young person earlier in life and that this omission has a contribution to the outcomes. We frequently get to see the early omissions in 'last resort' made children's homes placements. We must provide the best opportunity for young people and providers across all options, adoption, fostering and children's homes.
Poor outcomes are a shared responsibility. Actions will change outcomes. Change will not come by continuing to place responsibility on the final placement but from knowing residential placements can and do produce positive outcomes, and so using them when a young person needs them.
In this new leadership for effective use of the care system where the renewal is based on the most effective use of each setting and service, an integration where all placements are used positively, there will be an understanding that children's homes can be positive places. It will look at the deployment of practice, how the right young person gets to the right placement. It will also reconsider the size of our children's homes sector.
We already have the smallest number of young people in children's homes. There's a size where getting smaller becomes counterproductive, size can bring a diversity of practice essential to match needs to provision. A richness of thought and experience can come from numbers.
It is clear that rather than a reduction there needs to be an increase of residential options.
Working from a needs analysis across all authorities we need to plan locally, regionally and nationally so we have the homes we need in the places we need them. Such precision working will increase occupancy and decrease fees, increase the focus on task and thereby effectiveness and outcomes still further.
What's needed is to grow the size of the sector, by design increasing the number of homes for some needs, so that members of each sub-group meeting specifically identified needs can contribute asking the same questions, wrestling with the same issues, and worrying about the same things as you are, so that they feel a little less isolated and a little more recognised.