28/06/2013 08:08 BST | Updated 27/08/2013 06:12 BST

Children's Homes Present and Future

Viewers of the recent Panorama programme about children's homes rightly expect providers to help the Government reform the care system.

Such brief programmes inevitably fall short of discussing issues in depth and can frame the problem in misleading ways but those who are concerned can now focus on a raft of reforms advanced by the Government for consultation and then implementation.

Children's homes providers have long argued for many of these changes. But some are too little and too slow. More importantly, as they focus entirely on children's homes, they miss out reforms needed for the entire children's services system.

Positive children's homes flourish best in a positive children services system. The outcomes achieved by children's homes are usually connected to what has happened before or elsewhere.

One proposal is to stop siting children's homes in unsafe areas. We have not yet been given guidance about what defines a safe area and that will be a big part of the consultation.

Given that the focus is only on children's homes means that an important question has not been posed. If we move residential homes out of an unsafe area then what of the young people in fostering and birth families - how is it safe for them?

Children's homes have to notify the authorities of involvement or suspicion of involvement with child sexual exploitation. The same must be expected of all placements, as providers of children's homes representatives have long been arguing.

We have also been arguing for more skilled and qualified workforce and it's great that this is on the agenda.

We've been arguing for greater collaboration between providers and other agencies such as the police. We hope that the new missing person protocol improves this through regular training and shared appreciation of each other's tasks. Homes need protection and for the police to actively divert and disrupt exploiters and abusers.

The notification of movements into and out of a home is something the sector has pursued for several years. It has been the responsibility of local authorities to inform their colleagues but it hasn't been implemented. It was providers who have been championing this protection and information-sharing.

Most children in a children's home go missing less than before they arrived. Some come to a children's home because they went missing so often. They find responsive adults and alter their behaviour.

We know that distance is sometimes needed for a child to get a feeling of safety. They need a new 'home from home' where psychological and emotional well-being are more important than distance.

Nor do we know if there is a difference between local authority services and private and voluntary ones. Of course, children going missing is not only a concern for children's homes but affects many young people from birth families and fostering too.

The big omission is the need for a collective and comprehensive strategy for residential child care. What do we want our homes to do and how do we want them to do it? What is the right cost?

This requires a new sufficiency and diversity duty for local authorities that will deliver audits of need and plan local, regional and national placements.

The media portray government reforms as some sort of crackdown. Clearly, abuse has to be eliminated. We also need to further and constantly lift standards in all homes and in inspection.

Most homes in England are solo operations and some small companies have a few more while there are few large corporates. There is real value in the care small providers give. If we want this creativity to continue, local authorities should change how they support small homes. Large numbers of homes owned by one large company creates a situation where local authorities have to choose between four or five big companies. That is not in anyone's interests.

Good providers have nothing to fear and the system needs reforming to maximise outcomes for looked-after children. We have wanted this for years and providers will play a positive part in making sure we have a care system that is fit for purpose.