A fundamental overhaul of children’s residential care to tackle system-wide failings was announced today by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson.
The proposed reforms will lead to a much sharper focus on transparency, a drive for higher quality in care homes and stricter measures to hold local authorities (LAs) and care homes to account for their decisions.
The plans are part of a package of reforms which demand much better decision making from LAs about where children are placed. The process by which LAs access reports has been clarified, so that councils are able quickly and easily to access information about the homes in their area, and have it regularly updated.
We are working with Ofsted to toughen up its inspection and intervention powers - scrapping ‘adequate’ and replacing it with ‘requires improvement’, and introducing new rules so they give an ‘amber’ rating if a home is inadequate. If it doesn’t improve within a specified time limit, it will be given a ‘red’ rating and close.
Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister, said:
For too long children’s residential care has been ignored - leading to unacceptable failings in the system. We’ve worked hard over the last year to identify the problems and are now taking strong action to tackle them.
Children in care should expect the same standards that we would want for our own children. Our reforms will improve the quality of care and tackle the out-of-sight, out-of-mind culture and poor decision making, so vulnerable children are safe.
I’m a strong believer that transparency drives up quality. Our package of reforms will remove the secrecy which has shrouded residential care for too many years - shining a light on where local authorities and care homes can do better.
We are also dealing with the unacceptable problem of too many children going missing from care. In the next 6 months local authorities should review how they work to ensure it is in line with the revised statutory guidance.
The reforms take forward the recommendations of the 3 expert groups convened by the department to look at quality in children’s homes, data on missing children and out-of-area placements. The reforms will:
- introduce rules so Ofsted will only allow new homes to be opened in safe areas, run by competent providers
- ensure homes already open in less safe areas demonstrate they can protect children - otherwise Ofsted will close them
- set mandatory limits for staff working in children’s homes to achieve minimum qualifications
- publish full inspection reports including ownership - unless it risks identifying children
- set out that homes must clearly indicate the type and level of provision they offer so they are equipped to meet the needs of the children placed with them
- introduce new rules so homes must tell LAs when children move into and out of the area
- strengthen the rules so a senior official in the LA approves out of area placements that are a significant distance from a child’s home - ensuring it is the best decision for the child
Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said:
Nothing could be more important than the safety and welfare of our most vulnerable children in care.
For this reason, Ofsted welcomes the range of new measures being published by the government, including those which will strengthen our ability to drive up standards in children’s homes and act against poor performing providers to help keep these young people safe.
I am proposing to replace our current ‘adequate’ inspection grading for children’s homes with a new judgement of ‘requires improvement’. This will send a clear signal that good should be regarded as the minimum acceptable standard of provision for all children.
Also published today is the revised statutory guidance on children missing from care. From September Ofsted will inspect LAs’ performance on how they are meeting the statutory requirements to reduce the number of children who go missing from care.
This builds on significant work we have already taken to prevent children going missing from care. We have already started recording details of every child missing from care, even for an hour (it used to be 24) and earlier this year changed the rules so for the first time police know where children’s homes are located.
We are also consulting on plans to strengthen safety in homes by:
- introducing new rules so children’s homes work much more closely with police and LAs to prevent children going missing
- strengthening the rules so LAs take decisive action where children are at risk of going missing - especially when they are placed away from home
Later this summer we will publish further data and analysis to provide much more detailed information on the location and quality of care homes, and how LAs place children. Using this data we will work with LAs to improve how they choose and pay for places in children’s homes and encourage them to work with other areas to find local places for children.
Notes to editors
- Three consultations have been published today, which will run until 17 September 2013:
- Today we have published a map showing the location of care homes and ownership sector. We will publish a data pack in July 2013.
- The expert groups were convened in July 2012 following the Rochdale child exploitation trial and reports from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Joint All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry on child exploitation in gangs, and children who go missing from care.
- Follow this link to read the report of the Expert Working Group on Quality, published on 23 April 2013.