This is an inquiry report in which children's homes will feel listened to and that is a very major step to healing the hurt that has been done to the sector. Whereas previous reports and discussions have included many extrapolations and interpretations of evidence here we have the transparency the sector has been seeking: evidence leads to conclusions.
The report then can be read as a restorative action. The balanced approach will assist the recovery of professional identity and esteem. Residential child care requires remarkable amounts of resilience in each person and organisation.
Recognition is an important aspect of identity and for many in the sector these past years they have not been able to recognise themselves as they have been described. The sector will welcome that it can read the ambition it has for itself, 'We recommend that the Government develops a national strategy for care provision, with residential care reconsidered within that context, informed by assessments of need at local, regional and national level. This should also aim to re-position residential care as a positive choice for the right children and young people in the right circumstances.'
The report will strike a chord too when it says, 'The Government needs to consider residential care in the context of the wider care system, rather than in isolation,' and 'A national strategy for care provision based on better assessments of need would benefit children in care and the sector more generally, as well as making the most efficient use of resources. The Government should work towards developing such a strategy.' After two years feeling disconnected and disoriented the sector can start to feel a valued part of the provision that is designed to meet the needs of all our young people.
The Committee are astute in knowing that improvement comes not only through technical tweaks but mainly cultural change. A colleague tells me every time we meet that 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast.' The sector is blessed with rich literature regarding leadership of children's homes and this requires a major investment needed to be made by the Government. The works of Hicks, Ward and Berridge will be highly prized reading.
The reform programme already shows signs of asking too much of a depleted sector and the Committee is right to keep an eye on the progress of the new location risk assessments. These could present a major burden to local government and associated local agencies as well as providers rendering them impractical. And on location another question has to be faced, should we only be concerned about children's homes or fostering in those areas too, and of birth families? The location assessments present an opportunity for big steps in collaboration between agencies and this must be propelled forwards by all partners being equal and recognising in balanced measure the responsibilities each carries for our country's children's homes and affording each the requisite authority to act in the best interests of young people.
The realism of the Committee is obvious when considering the need for local, regional and national strategy for placements. We do not know the proportion of local placements needed and this will only be achieved once a thorough national needs analysis is conducted and to do will require a revised Sufficiency Duty. Realistically this will not occur till a new Government but this must be the vanguard policy. Safety, specialism and choice require strategy but to recall my colleague's words above it will require a cultural shift that appreciates children's homes meet elemental needs that have existed throughout history. There should be no more experiments of doing away with children's homes. The evidence is clear about what happens when this has been tried.