Six is the magic number. Six words and an explanation. Then six Christmas wishes for the residential child care sector.
The right place at the right time for the right child. If we are to do this we need to do many things differently than we do now. Currently no children's home can feel safe secure and cared for because of the many pressures, especially those concerning finance and regulation, that are being applied to them.
I want to raise a missing ingredient from the discussions over the past 18 months: Belief.
I want to say six words not spoken in this place for a while - and we'll see what happens and if the building falls down.
'I believe in Residential Child Care.' The building is still standing. OK, let's continue.
I believe in children's homes, fostering, adoption - all can be positive for young people.
I believe in RCC because I've lived it. I have experience of what's good. There have been 12 years of continual improvement by children's homes according to Ofsted reports. This is a sector that shows it can and does improve.
I believe because I've studied the evidence. We are not using our homes as well as we could or as other countries, even in the UK, do.
I believe it can be the most positive option - we deny a child safety, specialism, and choice when they have to suffer five or more placement changes in a year, and thirty or more, before children and young people reach the place we know they needed in the first place.
I believe we have the tools to make matched and most appropriate placements and in that way we can get stability.
Belief - it is no longer enough to say all placements are equal. We need leadership, courage, patience, and stamina. My fear is we will have none of these and we will lose our children's homes. They face impossible demands: one person/agency says do this, the other says do the opposite.
Adoption, fostering have come in from the cold. It's time to welcome children's homes back into the family.
To get a positive use of children's homes will take a wider focus than just on the homes. We have to change the whole children's services system. You can read more on this on the ICHA website - STEP UP for RCC
My six Christmas wishes for children's homes everywhere are:
1. New national standards that enable homes to meet the needs of young people because they are based on the needs of young people.
2. Better qualifications - changes to content and delivery. The qualifications we have at the moment are not fit for our purpose. We need more on how to promote attachment and work with the effects of trauma, abuse, neglect so all young people can be resilient young people.
3. Better social work assessments. Social workers need to know more about higher level needs, able to identify and assess correctly. They need to be able to make relationships with young people. Case management is different when the parenting part of parental responsibility is emphasised. They need to commit to being a part of young person's life for a long period, young people need the stability of their social workers. We need all social workers to have experience of the demands of residential work through a return of the residential placement for all social work degrees.
4. Commissioning must match a child's needs to the placement. There must be a level playing field for all placements so a young person gets what they need. We should not prioritise local authority homes over others. Sometimes a local authority home will not have what is needed. The most benefit will come when we make choices on a level playing field choosing from all options possible. We must end the imbalance of cost over care - it can't be right when 80% of a decision is made by cost. No matter what the quality in that situation price will always rule.
5. Children's homes need to know they can count on reliable support from health services, schools, and other agencies like the police.
6. Strategy - we need the needs of young people to lead the planning of what homes we need where locally, regionally and nationally.
This is an edited version of a talk given at the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for looked after children and care leavers on 11 December 2013