Revelations of a Caregiver

News of the long-awaited care review announced by Boris on 24 November 2019 came almost one year after I had returned to children’s regulated care as a provider of two small children’s homes. Like many, I welcomed the government’s pledge to review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings provide children and young adults with the support they need.

I had resigned from a previous senior management position in regulated children’s social care in May 2017 to manage supported accommodation for care leavers and during the summer of 2019, I was approached by the producer of BBC News Night who wanted to know if might contribute to a program about the use of unregulated accommodation. After explaining that I believe Ofsted style regulation has been a significant factor in the demise of children’s social care and more of the same was not the solution, it was clear that my views did not converge with the aims of the program and the invitation was not progressed. It is not that I think young people should be dumped in accommodation that is not fit for purpose.

In fact, my view is quite the opposite which is why in 2002 I set up supported accommodation for care leavers as an alternative to the use of bed & breakfast which was common practice at the time. Then in 2009 my business partner and I set up and managed two other projects offering care leavers the opportunity to live in their own self-contained accommodation, in a small community with 24hr on-site support provided by suitably qualified and experienced staff. The service was not designed to provide care as defined by Ofsted or to support young people under 16. Until recent years, we were never asked to, we never have and never would. That does not mean we don’t care about the young people we support or that we fail to protect them from the perils that exist in society. It means that we ease them into the unavoidable realities of adult life through a risk-aware, not risk-averse, living-learning experience that supports their rights and promotes responsibility for themselves and others.   

Whilst I accept that many people believe Ofsted style regulation prevents poor standards and improves the quality of care, it is not a view I share. If that were that simple, the outcomes of care leavers would not still be lagging behind the general population twenty years later. Here, it is worth noting that the main impetus for regulation was the privatisation movement, which began with the Conservative governments of the 1980s. Most of the nationalised industries had statutory monopolies which required regulation to prevent abuse of that power via higher prices or lower standards of service than there would have been in competitive markets. Two decades later when independent regulation was introduced to social care the main purpose was to provide a level playing field between public, voluntary, and private care providers. The problem is that there is a natural tendency for organisations to morph into institutions, their rules and behaviour then become inflexible, they become closed and secretive, and resist change. Attention was drawn to what happens when regulators behave in this way in 2014 by Dave Richards and Martin Smith https://www.regulation.org.uk/library/2014-Richards_and_Smith Institutions_and_the_Banality_of_Evil.pdf. Then a few years later the case for regulatory change was made by Christopher Hodges and Ruth Steinholtz in ‘Ethical Business Practice and Ethical Regulation’, the book they co-authored and published in 2017 in which they explain the science that supports a behavioural and values-based approach to compliance and enforcement. 

But unfortunately, it is still all too often the preferred solution of the establishment is to redirect and wrongly attribute responsibility for failed policies without sufficient interrogation of cause. An histroical example of this is the case of Peter Righton, a well-connected childcare expert who gave “considerable assistance” to a government report in 1970. This led to ‘major reforms’ of 1970’s children’s homes and opened the doors to an epidemic of child abuse during the 1970s and 1980s with the likes of Frank Beck, Tony Latham, and others also being awarded ‘expert status’. At the same time, the attention of the government was focused on rolling back the welfare state, and it is in this scandal-infused climate that the professionalisation and marketisation of children’s social care that the preference for ‘cheaper’ family placements emerged. 

A decade later institutional child abuse scandals that reached media attention in 1989 served this agenda well. Revelations of abuse allegations made by 57 residents and former residents against Ralph Morris proprietor of Castle Hill School in Ludlow and investigations in Staffordshire, North Wales, and Leicestershire evidenced the need for reform. But not long after the Care Standards Act 2000 reached the statute book what began as a ‘mixed economy’ intended to improve quality and choice became a magnet for short-term private investment. This was not an accident it was by design and a small number of large companies now dominate the market. But within a decade of the Act and three years after Ofsted became responsible for the registration and inspection of children’s services, the media broke the news of the Rotherham grooming gangs. Rochdale and numerous other inquiries followed and once again children’s homes suffered the brunt of blame even though many caregivers on the front-line had been raising concerns for years. 

The media has shown little interest in the deeper underlying causes of these atrocities or the abuses of Jimmy Saville or child abuse in the Catholic church and elsewhere. The Jay report illustrates that victims were treated with contempt, so were their parents and caregivers but these stories were of no interest to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and they have not reached the front pages of newspapers or television screens. To do so would expose those in positions of power and authority who ignored the interests of the weak and the vulnerable, and those charged with the duty to keep them safe. Sadly, it seems there is still little genuine appetite for truth or motivation to move away from a culture of secrecy to a culture of openness, transparency, and true accountability.

Yet in a commercial climate where there is so much is at stake the value of a good Ofsted rating and even better an outstanding one is not to be underestimated any more than a willingness to hide faults that might adversely affect this. The belief that regulation prevents poor practice and promotes cost-effective services ignores the potential for unethical regulation and business practice, and the tendency for organisations to be more interested in their own survival than those they are supposed to serve. This is most evident in the increased use of compromise agreements by companies and declined freedom of information requests by Ofsted.

At an accountability hearing on 10 November 2020, a member of the education select committee noted there had been a significant increase in legal costs and asked if Ofsted would be willing to share the reasons why costs had been increasing. Yvette Stanley National Director of Children’s Social Care replied, “Over the last two years we have undertaken more regulatory work and pushed things through the system. Even in lockdown, we have cancelled a number of children’s homes and we are finding providers are more litigious than they were historically… Tribunal work, litigation generally, and our costs in supporting our work for ICSA would probably be, off the top of my head, the three issues. We could always come back to you with a written response with colleagues who are closer to the detail.”

Considering this was an accountability hearing the absence of interrogation evident in the minutes of this meeting, reveals just how easy it is to avoid public scrutiny and shows there was no interest in the reasons why providers are, “more litigious than they were historically.” The most disturbing aspect of this is that it completely ignores the possibility that Ofsted may be at fault and exposes bias that may also explain why attempts to raise concerns with the Children’s Minister and MP’s about the unfair disqualification of caregivers has fallen on deaf ears. By the time the ‘Independent Care Review’ was announced on 15 January 2021, I had personally witnessed the proposed refusal of three children’s home manager applications.

Of these, the first two applicants were disqualified from the children’s workforce. The third was successfully appealed following heartfelt pleas for mercy from children living in the home, professional representation from their social workers, and reliable testimony from an accompanying notetaker that revealed the harsh conditions and hostile interrogation techniques the applicant was subjected to during the fit person interview. All were long-serving, DBS cleared, suitably qualified, and experienced employees. One had been the responsible individual of the company for 12 years without any steps being taken by Ofsted to terminate this. There are now 461 signatures from people all over the country on a petition to end the unfair disqualification of caregivers which shows there is genuine concern about Ofsted’s approach to the fit person process. But for many of those affected, the cost of legal representation which can be anywhere between ten and fifteen thousand pounds limits their access to legal redress. If this were not the case, I suspect Ofsted’s legal bill would be much higher.

I had hoped the ‘Independent Care Review’ would provide an opportunity for a thorough exploration of the environment in which children’s services are provided and what actually separates good outcomes from poor outcomes from all perspectives. But, sadly not it seems. Everything about this review, from its hand-picked chair, the experts by experience panel, limits imposed on time, and the absence of meaningful opportunities for critical debate, strongly suggests to me that the government does not want to know what really goes on in children’s social care, anymore now than it has done throughout the last five decades and I have a collection of fob off letters to prove it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Only

On Friday January 15th the Education Secretary launched the long called for and much anticipated independent review of children’s social care.

According to the government, “this is a once in a generation opportunity to overhaul a system that is failing vulnerable children and creaking under the strain of rising numbers of children entering care.” But for many who have lived and worked in the world of education, children’s social care and academics that have studied this immensely complex system, the announcement was a bitter disappointment. Not least because the government’s chosen chair, Josh Macalister bears all the hallmarks of chumocracy and hidden agenda.

I had wondered where the London Borough of Hackney fitted into the wider world of children’s social care when I made the connection between Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Walshaw, head of Ofsted from 2012 to 2017, Sir Alan Wood founding chair of What Works for Children’s Social Care in 2018 and Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for England (children and families) since 2013. This announcement prompted me to look a little closer.

Sir Alan Wood was the Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Services at Hackney from 2006 to 2016. In this era, I attended a ‘Reclaiming Social Work’ presentation, a model that Isabelle Trowler is well-known for co-designing with Steve Goodman, deputy director of children’s services at Hackney. Mary Jackson, now the interim CEO at Frontline, joined Hackney in 2006 to manage the implementation of ‘Reclaiming Social Work’.

Four years later in March 2010 Isabelle Trowler, Steve Goodman and Mary Jackson set up Morning Lane Associates, a private limited company to provide management consultancy services.  The following month Steve Cross, Alison Hubbard (Human Reliability Associates) and Eileen Munro (London School of Economics) completed and independent evaluation of the model. They concluded that Reclaiming Social Work has had a positive impact and the results of this study support and endorse the value of the programme. Morning Lane went on to develop Reclaiming Social Work and it was implemented in a number of local authorities.  

When Isabelle Trowler became the first Chief Social Worker for England in September 2013, she resigned from Morning Lane. Mary Jackson stepped down as a director at the same time but remained with the company until she took up the position of Leadership Development Director at Frontline in January 2015. That year Morning Lane was awarded grant funding through the first round of the DfE’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme to test the Hackney model in five local authorities. It is unclear how much public money exactly was paid to Morning Lane because it was part of a consortium led by international consultancy firm KPMG. However, it is known that the company banked at least £2.9m through contracts to deliver children’s social care reforms before is was dissolved in 2019 (CYP Now 6 June 2019).

Two years prior to this Amanda Spielman replaced Sir Michael Wilshaw as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector. Unlike her predecessor, she was not a teacher, she was an account, market analyst and investment banker before moving into the education sector and becoming the policy director for the Ark academy chain in 2004. From 2011, she chaired exams regulator Ofqual three days a week, working with then chief executive Glenys Stacey who later served as HMCI of probation and and led HM Inspectorate of Probation for England and Wales. Whilst at Ofqual she continued working as an adviser on public-private education partnerships as a consultant for Ark, and as an external reviewer for the Teach-First education charity.

However, when Amanda Spielman appeared before the education select committee for pre-appointment questioning, Conservative committee chairman Neil Carmichael said he and his colleagues were “unconvinced” that she was the right person to lead Ofsted, raise standards and improve the lives of children. Her responses on child protection had been particularly troubling. He added that it is unusual for a select committee to find itself unable to support the government’s preferred candidate but the seriousness of the concerns about this appointment led them to report these to the House of Commons and to call on the secretary of state not to proceed. But Nicky Morgan dismissed the concerns raised and enforced the appointment.

Despite not being a teacher Amanda Spielman did have at least one thing in common with Sir Michael Wilshaw, involvement in the development of Academy Trusts. When Sir Clive Bourne opened Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney as one of the first ‘City Academies’ in 2004, Sir Michael Wilshaw became its first principle. He remained there until January 2012 when he replaced Christine Gilbert as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and head of Ofsted. The last full Ofsted inspection at Mossbourne Community Academy was in 2010 when it was rated outstanding. Ofsted say “…most outstanding schools are exempt from routine inspection. We formally carry out a risk assessment of exempt schools three years after their most recent full inspection and regularly thereafter, but do not publish a report.”

A year after Sir Michael Wilshaw joined Mossbourne Community Academy, Amanda Spielman joined Ark Schools Academy Trust as a founding member of the management team. Ark Schools is the educational arm of an international children’s charity founded in 2002 by a group of financiers. The chair is Paul Marshall who along with Ian Wace is the co-founder of Marshall Wace Asset Management Ltd, a big hedge fund. Shortly before joining Ark Amanda Spielman had completed further studies in Comparative Education at University College London. She took up the role of Majesty’s Chief Inspector and head of Ofsted in 2016.

Fast forward to Bonfire Night, Thursday 5th November 2020. The government was under increasing pressure from the media about private equity investment in children’s homes, a lack of suitable placements for the increasing number of children coming into care, and the use of unregulated children’s homes. In response to questions about the long-awaited Care Review promised in the 2019 manifesto, the children’s minister told Children & Young People Now it was set to begin “very imminently”.

The following month Gavin Williamson announced that prominent academy trust boss Rachel De Souza was the governments pick to take over from Ann Longfield as the Children’s Commissioner, but remained silent on the launch of the Care Review. Rachel De Souza CEO of Inspiration Trust said she was honoured to be nominated.

During the recruitment process concerns were raised about her ability to take on the role due to her lack of experience, and a lack of transparency within the recruitment process itself. Then in a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, committee chair Robert Halfon wrote that her evidence to the committee highlighted several deficits in her knowledge and experience. In particular, they were concerned about her apparent lack of knowledge of some areas relevant to her new role. Key among these were in the field of children’s social care and fostering and adoption, youth services, the youth justice system, child and adolescent mental health and the wider immigration system.” Paradoxically, despite these concerns, the committee found that Rachel de Souza was a “competent candidate”.

Inspiration Trust was founded by Theodore Agnew in 2012. A year later he became a non-executive board member of the Department for Education and chairman of its Academies Board unit July 2015 when he was appointed lead non-executive board member of the Ministry of Justice. He became Baron Agnew of Oulton on 19 October 2017 and was appointed as an education Minister. He resigned from Inspiration a year later after this appointment.

Rachel De Souza became a dame in 2014 for services to education and in 2016 she founded the campaign group Parents and Teachers for Excellence with Jon Moynihan, a venture capitalist who is listed alongside her as a director. The campaign was devised with the help of Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to David Cameron and James Frayne former director of policy and strategy at Policy Exchange a right of centre influential think tank founded in 2002 by conservative politicians. The group aims to promote the principles its members believe deliver the best outcomes for pupils. These include a knowledge-based curriculum, more assessment and effective discipline.

Four weeks after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed the appointment of Rachael De Souza on 17 December 2020, he announced that Josh McAlister a former teacher and CEO of Frontline a registered charity and private limited company to provide ‘teach first’ training for social workers was to chair the Independent Children Review. In response leading social care academics, charities, professionals and some members of the care experienced community raised concerns about his lack of independence, experience and sincerity. This appointment is seen by some as blatant determination by government to depend on a network of friends and allies to progress the privatisation of children’s services including social work and child protection.  

Frontline was initially proposed in 2010 by Josh McAlister who aimed to mirror his personal ‘teach first’ experience of teacher training in social work. Three years on it had been incubated by Absolute Return for kids the parent organisation of Ark schools, Boston Consulting Group, and the centre left think tank IPPR  the institute for public policy research. At the launch on 14 September 2014 he was able to count on powerful support from Education Secretary Michael Gove who provided £1m start-up funding from the DfE and, Lord Adonis a labour peer, trustee of teach first and patron of Frontline, who was taken into care as a child. An independent evaluation of the Frontline project undertaken by Cardiff University was published by the Department for Education in 2016. It said inspiration for the model came from the reclaiming social work initiative developed in Hackney.

After taking what amounts to little more than a peep behind the scenes of the children’s social care review I realise that my hopes for the “wide-ranging, independent review to address poor outcomes for children in care as well as strengthening families to improve vulnerable children’s lives”, were over optimistic and naïve. Much as I would like to believe otherwise, the panel of experts by experience that has divided the social care community appears to be no more than window dressing for a review that is merely a vehicle to progress a political agenda that can be traced back to the 1980’s.

Driven by conviction that private is always best, outsourcing was introduced by the conservative government to lessen state bureaucracy, improve quality and reduce costs.Children’s homes are a particularly graphic illustration of public sector monopolies being replaced with private ones. Billions of pounds worth of public services from street cleaning to schools have been outsourced, large IT contracts across government are awarded to the private sector and charities run large chunks of the social services for the elderly and disabled. We are all familiar with the marketisation and privatisation of public services and the ‘if only’ rhetoric used to justify it https://eprints.kingston.ac.uk/id/eprint/32689/1/Jones-R-32689.pdf.

“If only we had competent teachers in our classrooms, if only schools provided effective discipline, if only we had great social workers, if only we had outstanding leaders, if only universities did not churn out crap teachers and social workers…”

Families would not be living in poverty, children would not be deprived, increasing numbers of young people would not be suffering poor mental health, prisons would not be over-populated with disadvantaged children come of age, too many care leavers would not become street homelessness when they turn 18, and they would not be more likely to die in early adulthood than other young people. 

If only this were true, if only the government had kept its promise, if only the government was willing to learn from the mistakes of the past. Some may think we should just move on and forget the past but believing without asking questions is dangerous, it runs the risk of repeating the same mistakes. I believe that personal stories provide insight into what has gone wrong with children’s social care and without looking at this from all perspectives the system will remain broken and worse still the blame culture will reign.

“Divide and rule, sub-divide and rule even more powerfully, fragment and rule absolutely.” Frank Herbert

 When Gavin Williamson launched the Care Review he said, “this is a once in a generation opportunity to overhaul a system that is failing vulnerable children and creaking under the strain of rising numbers of children entering care.” What he didn’t say is that the government is intent on reducing the financial burden of children’s social care and that behind the scenes there is a network of hand-picked allies and well-connected beneficiaries who will decide how this is done. In this context, the Twitter announced decision of Josh McAlister to echo calls already made by the last children’s commissioner and the communities select committee to the Competition and Market Authority for an investigation into aspects of the children’s social care market is intriguing. Not least because panel member Jeremy Newman is an active director of Frontline.

Whether driven by well-informed intentions or not, in my experience there has always been an elite in children’s social care united by vested interest. There are ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and where you are positioned will determine your success or your fate. But I do not believe responsibility for the failure of children’s social care is sector or agency specific. It is the telling culture created by the relentless attack on children’s social care, the dominance of fragmented expertism, and the environment shaped by this over the last forty years that explains its failure.

Amanda Knowles MBE

Memoirs of a Whistle Blower

Since the exposure of epidemic abuse that swept through children’s homes from the early 1960’s into the 1990’s the restoration of trust and confidence in children’s social care has been a political priority. The Care Standards Act 2000 was intended to provide a level playing field for all providers and quality assurance through the introduction of new systems for the inspection of social care and regulation of social care staff by national social care councils to ensure that providers are competent in their duty of care. Responsibility for the inspection of children’s social care was transferred to Ofsted in 2005.

Ofsted itself was created in 1992 to ensure all schools were inspected regularly by a rigorous, and transparent process led by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools. The first HMCI was replaced in 1994 by Chris Woodhead a controversial character who by his own admission introduced a ‘fear led’ regime and defended his right to make significant alterations to inspection reports that changed the original meaning. Despite calls for his resignation from critics he was rated by Tony Blair and re-appointed by the education secretary, David Blunkett. He left in November 2000, but his legacy remained and less than a year later Ofsted assumed responsibility for the inspection of childminding, even though sixteen education professors had signed a petition for a Royal Commission on Ofsted.

By the mid-decade Ofsted’s remit had been extended to include the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration and the inspection remit of the Adult Learning Inspectorate in 1995. Then in 2007 the regulator also became responsible for the oversight of child protection in England and was severely criticised by the media and the government after Harringey children’s services received a rating of good following the death of Peter Connolly (Baby P) who was killed by his mother’s partner in August that year. This was also the same year that an Ofsted inspector failed to interrupt the routine use of dangerous and unlawful physical restraint in children’s homes operated by a private provider that only came to light when the business was sold three years later.

Logbooks containing hundreds of physical intervention reports revealed excessive misuse of dangerous physical intervention techniques, restraints lasting as many as ten hours at a time, untrained staff involved in prone restraints and failure to seek medical attention when injuries were sustained had gone unnoticed. Even the admission of one of the children to a psychiatric hospital failed to raise alarm, and when the home was inspected on 11 September 2007 the inspector confirmed, “the home records all sanctions and physical intervention appropriately, sampling these documents supported appropriate interventions and sanctions were being deployed.”

My business partner and I met the author of this report at a child protection strategy meeting just two months after raising the alarm. A child had suffered actual bodily harm during a restraint at school, the children’s home where the child lived had not been notified and concerns had been raised. The proprietor of the school (had been the senior manager responsible for this home and others in the group for ten years prior to the change of ownership) and the inspector were well known to each other, and to the senior social worker who chaired the meeting. Astonishingly the meeting went ahead without the medical report from the hospital and in the absence of the ‘looked after’ children’s nurse and the child’s own social worker.

The connection between the historical use of physical intervention in these homes and the school was completely ignored and the case was closed without a full child protection investigation. Efforts to rectify this proved to be pointless, complaints to Ofsted were not upheld, and almost a year later we were astounded to learn that our main concerns were outside the remit of the independent adjudicator whose role was only to investigate the manner in which Ofsted dealt with the complaints and make recommendations to improve processes and practices for dealing with complaints. Nevertheless, the adjudicator accurately recognised the relevance of the historical context and the responsibility we attributed to this inspector   and noted in the report that none of these concerns had been acknowledged or addressed and Ofsted had missed opportunity for a more constructive dialogue.  

But Ofsted were not interested in constructive dialogue, instead the responsible individual was threatened with a custodial sentence, one of the children’s homes was forced to close, the others were at risk of closure and in our minds, there was only one explanation. Serious child protection and safeguarding failures had gone unaddressed for years, and our efforts to reveal concerns arising from this were being blocked by this inspector and his superiors. When Sir Michael Wilshaw took up the role of HMCI in 2012 we requested a review of these concerns, but this was refused, in despair we brought this to the attention of the Children’s Commissioner, the Children’s Minister or the Ombudsman to no avail. But just a few months later stories of child abuse dominated the media that were not so easily ignored when reports surfaced that Jimmy Saville had sexually abused hundreds of child and adult victims throughout his life.

Years later, I came into contact with this inspector again at a meeting hosted by Ofsted, he was by then a senior manager working in children’s social care. Since our paths had first crossed further concerns about historical abuse had emerged, not least an online disclosure exposing historical mental, physical and sexual abuse, talk of a boy who had lived in an outhouse in the grounds of one of the homes to prepare for his independence, and a dubious inspection history dating back to the 1980’s. I had already written to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and been advised that it was not possible for the inquiry to investigate every allegation of institutional abuse so it came as no surprise that those responsible had not been held to account.

By then HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw had been replaced by Amanda Spielman, an appointment that went against the advice of the Education Select Committee who were concerned by her responses on child protection and doubted her ability to improve the lives of children and young people. This was one of just three appointments out of ninety-six that went ahead against committee advise between 2007 and 2017, the others being the appointment of Dr Maggie Atkinson to the role of Children’s Commissioner in 2010 and Chris Millward to the role of director for fair access and participation at the office for students in 2017. Soon after the arrival of Amanda Spielman I resigned from my senior management position in private equity owned children’s homes. Four years in the boardroom had left me in no doubt this was not the place for me.  

In the months that followed my efforts went into working with care leavers in supported accommodation and organising the first Your Life Your Story event that took place during care leavers week the same year. Then in December 2018, at the request of a provider my business partner and I had known for years and following pre-sale discussions with Ofsted we returned to the sector to take over three small children’s homes at risk of closure. To our dismay within weeks a refused variation request forced a young person’s placement to end prematurely and our representations in response to this set us on another collision course with Ofsted. Over the next two years two of three refused manager applications resulted in two long serving, qualified and experienced members being disqualified from the children’s workforce, the third applicant also received a notice of proposal to refuse but this was withdrawn following pleas from the children affected, their social workers and the staff working at the home.

One of the two refused applicants took her case to tribunal. This was only possible because she had access to Pro bono legal representation that would otherwise have been in the region of £10k to £12k and unaffordable for someone who had been removed from paid employment without notice and prevented from progressing their employment without a waiver from Ofsted which had been refused. This case exposed a lack of employment law knowledge and the role of the local authority designated officer (LADO) at a senior level in Ofsted, serious whistleblowing failures, inaccurate and misleading records and willingness to rely on evidence arising from unfair disciplinary processes. The judge was of the view that the appellant should not be disqualified from the children’s workforce but bewilderingly the panel upheld the decision made by Ofsted which irrevocably carried the penalty of disqualification.

Incensed by the harm caused by these secretive processes and the lack of protection for those affected I had already launched the campaign ‘stop the unfair disqualification of caregivers’ and brought it to the attention of relevant members of parliament who completely ignored it. I connected with other refused applicants who have been permanently disqualified from the children’s workforce and my attention was drawn to applicants who have progressed despite a dubious track record. I also met other providers who had been adversely affected by refused manager applications, unfair inspection judgements and delayed variation requests and new home registrations, some had been forced into insolvency. But when I made a freedom of information request asking for the number of refused applications and the reason for refusal in each region it was denied. Ofsted claim that this information is protected by exemption, but that has never been legally tested.

If this is the case, it fills me with dread because we know there is “a natural tendency for organisations to morph into institutions. Their rules and behaviour then ossify, and they become closed and secretive, whilst their internally promoted leaders resist change with unusual passion” https://www.regulation.org.uk/index.html  and, following the Jimmy Saville and Rotherham child abuse scandals Dave Richards and Martin Smith wrote about what can happen when regulatory organisations develop in this way. https://www.regulation.org.uk/library/2014-Richards_and_Smith-Institutions_and_the_Banality_of_Evil.pdf

Of course, care experienced adults and caregivers know that abuse was ignored by those in positions of authority because we were there, and there is simply too much evidence to refute this. We also know that when whistles were blown, and crimes were reported they were ignored, and abuse was allowed to continue. In response, layers of bureaucracy have been introduced because caregivers can’t be trusted, we are repetitively reminded of our duty to whistle blow in case we forget, whilst Ofsted’s fear led inspection regime is trusted to enforce compliance and punish non-compliance. But that only works as long as the regulator can be trusted, and I first began to doubt this when my own efforts to ‘blow the whistle’ on serious safeguarding concerns and regulatory failures in 2010 fell on deaf ears and left me exposed to the threat of malicious professional misconduct allegations years later. Since then I have experienced homes rated by inspectors without experience of the settings they were judging, massive discrepancies between verbal feedback and written reports, secretive decision-making processes and repetitive failure to respond to concerns raised.

As a result of these experiences it is just not possible for me to remain silent in the face of regulatory hypocrisy or the willingness of government to collude with this, or to standby while good people are ejected from the social care workforce, and children facing the loss of a trusted caregiver are forced to beg for clemency on their behalf.

 

Amanda Knowles MBE

The Last Decade

Soon after the sound of New Year bells fade and the New Millennium comes of age, I will have spent almost 45 years living close to children and young people looked after by the state and the adults they become. For the most part, it has been a joy and a privilege but as the curtain closed on the last decade, it ended for me as it began in disillusionment.

At the beginning of 2010, I was shocked to learn there was a willingness to ignore lessons from the child abuse scandals in the eighties and nineties when concerns about excessive and unauthorised physical restraint that had been overlooked by inspectors were not investigated. Astonishingly, this was just one year after the court of appeal ruled in 2009 that the physical restraint used on 14-year-old Alan Rickwood that preceded his death at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre was an assault. After this, seeds of doubt flourished in my mind during a long tour of professional rebuffs that ended with Sir Michael Wilshaw refusing to revisit this failure when he took up the position of HMCI in 2012.

In the aftermath of this, I struggled to accept that those responsible for this regime would not be called to account. But soon after, I took comfort in the Hillsborough disaster report published in September that year and in the knowledge the evidence was safe and truth could not be denied. Then in 2014 my hopes were raised when news of the national child abuse inquiry was announced, but not for long. Little more than a month later I witnessed the submission of false evidence during the trial of a carer charged with sexual offences against 3 girls living in 3 different children’s homes.

I knew this man did not have an impeccable work record, his personnel file would validate this and there were witnesses in court who knew it, one had even confessed under oath that she had failed to report a previous disclosure. But my protests were pointless, the judge was advised that notes I had passed to the barristers announcing this were not a matter for his attention, and to my dismay, I was advised that the law does not permit the introduction of new evidence during a trial. In this circumstance, it came as no surprise to me that he walked free even though there was doubt in the minds of some in the jury.

After the hearing, I wrote to the Chief Inspector and the Police Commissioner in search of an opportunity to discuss what I had witnessed and what I knew about this case in the hope that lessons could be learned. But beyond a one-line acknowledgement from the office of the police commissioner, there was no interest in what I had to say and this was becoming a worryingly familiar experience. Years before the Rochdale grooming ring scandal hit the headlines, it was well known that children in care were being targeted and sexually exploited. The police called it a lifestyle choice, blamed missing children on carers, and failed to respond to calls for assistance from staff following vehicles driven by armed men.

In 2007 a young person who was moved 60 miles from one children’s home to another was pursued within 48 hours by a man claiming to be her ‘friend’ and another was located in a hospital with life-threatening injuries three days after she was picked from a children’s home. She had been stabbed during an argument by the man who took her, but nobody wanted to listen to the horror that was unfolding in towns and cities across the country, that carers walked the streets in the middle of the night searching for lost girls and spent hours in accident and emergency rooms waiting for medics to tend the mental and physical wounds of these atrocities.

When the story finally sparked media interest, carers were again in the line of fire and any hope of reclaiming the trust that was lost when the shock waves that followed widespread revelations of child abuse in the eighties and nineties imported deterrent regulation and gave birth to the prove it a game. Without doubt, too many children were abused by too many carers but what has followed has not delivered the improvements promised and sadly too many children are still being failed.

It is in this decade I experienced the arrival of venture capitalists and soon learned from my board room experiences that this was not the environment for me. I had already known that inspection reports had a commercial value so it came as no surprise to me that some have put more effort into playing the ‘prove’ it game or that shareholders and owners with no affinity to the children or communities they serve have entered the ‘market’ to exploit the availability of public funding for economic gain. But I am stunned by the part regulation has played in the formation of huge care companies and still plays in the suppression of smaller highly innovative enterprises.

Sadly, this decade has turned the clock back 40 years for me, to memories of an alcoholic officer in charge who took a bottle of whiskey to work every day, a cruel housemother who stole the children’s food for her own family and whistleblowers who sacrificed their career for the truth. At the beginning of 2010 I had struggled to understand why the concerns I raised about the use of unlawful and dangerous physical restraint were ignored, then in 2014 news of the wide-ranging national inquiry into child sexual abuse raised my hopes but these soon evaporated on receipt of this 2017 response…” as you will appreciate, given the wide remit of the Inquiry, it is not possible to investigate every allegation of institutional failure it receives…” Since then my collection of ‘fob off’ letters has grown considerably and now includes several highly questionable refused freedom of information requests.

I have witnessed the making of millionaire’s and the unfair disqualification of caregivers, seen children sacrificed for a good inspection report and good homes close because of poor ratings, and it is with these thoughts in mind as the curtain rises on the next decade that I remain determined to lift the shroud of secrecy that denies the truth, persecutes the powerless and stands in the way of justice in the world of children’s social care. 

“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” ― Czesław Miłosz

 

Amanda Knowles MBE

1 January 2021

The Blame Game

The Blame Game

As the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield points out, it is true that the use of unregulated supported accommodation has increased dramatically in recent years however, my ‘hands-on’ experiences tell me that this increased demand has not been fully explored. It is also true that there is no shortage of examples of poor practice in regulated and unregulated services or fees that resemble a king’s ransom not a fair price, but I do not believe that more deterrent regulation is the answer I believe it is part of the problem. If Ofsted is the force for improvement it claims to be this would be evident in improved outcomes, but it is not.

It is now twenty years since the care standards bill introduced independent regulation and inspection to children’s social care and thirteen years since this responsibility was transferred to Ofsted from The Commission for Social Care Inspection. Throughout this period Ofsted has described itself as a force for improvement yet for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers, “the picture is not improving” (The Silent Crisis 2019 update).

Of the 72,420 and rising, children looked after 48,723 are cared for by local authorities deemed by Ofsted to be inadequate or requiring improvement and evidence shows that looked after children suffer from lower education outcomes compared to their peers and are over-represented in the youth justice system. At the same time, Ofsted also deems 82% of children’s homes and 92% of independent fostering agencies to be good or outstanding. If this confusing data is reliable surely, we would be seeing improving outcomes for looked after children and care leavers, not a rise in media led horror stories about a failing care system. 

What is even more alarming is the continuing rise in the number of children entering care in their teenage years, as old as 17 in some cases, and expectations that care provided in foster homes and children’s homes can reverse years of harm caused by adverse childhood experiences in such short timescales at the taxpayer’s expense.  The flaw in this thinking is evident in the number of failed placements that all too often lead to the inappropriate use of supported accommodation for purposes it was never designed for and the increasing cost of failure.

This continuous attack on ‘unregulated supported accommodation’ supported by catastrophising media reporting is diverting attention from the need to identify the reasons why the age and number of children entering the care system are increasing, why regulated care is failing, and driving the increased demand for supported accommodation and why children and young people are being placed in unsuitable regulated and unregulated accommodation operated by unethical businesses as claimed.

On 19 January 2012 the then Children’s Minister Tim Laughton MP visited an unregulated supported accommodation service for care leavers in Lancashire. This service had been set up in 2003 to offer an alternative to the increasing use of bed and breakfast for care leavers at that time. After the visit, he sent a thank you letter with a special note of thanks to the young people who in his words did not hold back in sharing their experiences of the care system and plans for the future.

Tim Laughton’s interest in young people and specifically care experienced young people is particularly worthy of note. During his tenure he met regularly with care leavers, he participated in Care Leavers Week, he took the time to visit a very small service in the North of England and to send a letter of appreciation in which he wrote…

“As Children’s Minister, I was humbled by, and appreciative of, the work you are doing to ensure the young people, who may have not had the best start in life, are well equipped to face the future with confidence and vigour. Of course, good results do not happen by accident. They require leaders who are passionate and committed, characteristics that you have in abundance.”

My business partner and I hosted that visit and we are still providers of unregulated supported accommodation but our efforts to participate in this debate have so far been ignored by the media and the DfE. Surely if the aim of the care system is to raise well-balanced children safely, support them through the transition to adult life and enable them to take up their place in society and have a good life, the question we need to be asking should be is the system working properly? If the answer is no, we need to draw on the expertise of lived experience and redesign it.

To do this we need to stop feeding the ‘blame culture’ and stop repeating the same mistakes.

Quandaries of a Caregiver

I resigned from the role of responsible individual and operations director in children’s residential care and education in 2017, five months after Amanda Spielman was appointed to Ofsted’s top job. This was a decision made by former secretary of State Nicky Morgan against the advice of the Education Select Committee who were unanimously unconvinced that Amanda Spielman would fulfil the role of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills effectively. Committee members were particularly concerned by her responses on child protection, they doubted her preparedness for the vast scope and complexity of this important role and her ability to improve the lives of children and young people.

Amanda Spielman had never been a teacher or a social worker, her background was in merchant banking, business mergers and acquisitions until 2006 when she joined ARK schools after completing an MA in comparative education. She was a founder board member and education adviser for ARK Academies, a multi-academy trust created by a group of financiers working closely with the DfE to develop academy schools. Then in 2011 when the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation was formed, she saw off a strong field of candidates including the chief executive of the Ormiston Academies Trust, Toby Salt, and the general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, Russell Hobby and was appointed as Chair. The following year Ofqual was accused of causing a “gross injustice” affecting many young people when significant changes to grade boundaries made halfway through the year caused English results to plummet and led to an acute crisis of confidence in the exam system.

This appointment came ten years after Ofsted’s remit was expanded to include children’s social care and regrettably media reporting of the announcement did nothing to reassure me the much-criticised regulator would exchange deterrence for a more ethical approach to compliance and enforcement under this new leadership. Then just a few weeks later I was thrown into a quandary when a letter arrived in the post accusing me of professional misconduct related to historical child protection concerns and oppressive inspection experiences. I had become a shareholder when my business partner and I acquired a small company operating children’s homes and schools after being led to believe it was for sale because the owner was terminally ill. But this turned out to be untrue and soon after completion worrying practices not evident in inspection reports were uncovered and late notification of a reportable event triggered an unannounced inspection.    

The inspection report was accusatory in tone and listed around twenty-five requirements which were difficult to comprehend given that the company had been under new ownership for little more than five months and was overseen by the existing Care Director for most of this. If there was a reason for the regulatory belligerence we were experiencing, we were left guessing what it might be until staff told us the Care Director and the inspector had trained at the same college and were thought to be friendly. Soon after we observed this for ourselves at a child protection strategy meeting called after one of our children suffered injuries during a physical restraint in school. We had not been informed that an incident had taken place by the headteacher or the care director who was the proprietor the school and had by then left our employ.

After returning to the home complaining of a sore back the child concerned was taken to A&E and was sent home without treatment when no injuries were found by medics. The next day staff called for advice after extensive bruising and grazes were noticed on the child’s back during the morning routine. I told them to take photographs and go back to the hospital to ensure these injuries were properly assessed and documented. The fact that this was necessary was terrifying given that memories of the Victoria Climbié inquiry had not faded when “Baby P” became the second abused child known to child protection services to die in Harringay during the first decade of the new millennium.

Fortunately, my business partner and I were visiting the homes when we discovered the  strategy meeting called in response to this had been scheduled to take place the next day and even though attending this meant an unplanned overnight stay and a trip to the supermarket for travel essentials, being there was the priority. The meeting went ahead without the medical report from the hospital in an atmosphere laden with bias and hidden agendas. The outcome was no further action beyond a recommendation that the school address shortfalls in physical intervention training, but as far as I was concerned this was a non-accidental injury at the hands of a restraint dependent regime.

I had already raised concerns about an excessive use of dangerous and probably unlawful physical intervention sometimes endured for hours at a time with HMCI Christine Gilbert and provided scanned copies of original paper records containing compelling evidence overlooked by inspectors. But this did not bring about an investigation and as other matters of concern continued to emerge, I persevered in my efforts to secure an inquiry for over two years. When these were repeatedly ignored by Ofsted and placing authorities I wrote and retained copies of letters to The Children’s Minister, The Children’s Commissioner and The Ombudsman who alarmingly informed me that only complaints made by the children themselves could be investigated.

Soon after, I was forced to give up on my unheard attempts to point out the obvious child protection concerns arising from the ombudsman’s response because the company was sold and my services had been contractually retained for three years as an obligatory part of this deal which diverted my time and focus. But this was a testing time and by the end of the second year I left because I couldn’t stay. Consequently, when I became aware of the allegations of professional misconduct against me, I concluded that only my resignation would afford me the autonomy I needed to respond.

After months of costly legal wrangling I was satisfied the evidence of overlooked child protection concerns I was reluctant to give up was safely protected by legal privilege and could be retrieved by the children affected if they decided to make a complaint at any time in the future. Thankfully the wider dispute was also settled out of court without the need to re-mortgage the family home to cover the cost of legal fees. But I had forfeited the right to tell my story in the public arena and with allegations of professional misconduct still hanging over me I was still in a quandary.

Throughout this awful experience I had taken comfort from the determination of the families of Hillsborough victims during their 26 years long battle for justice. If I was guilty of professional misconduct, I was prepared to face the consequences and with this I referred myself to HCPC and the ICO a few days later. I was astounded to discover just how many other, whistle blowers had found themselves in a similar quandary, most significantly those who had reported Jimmy Saville, and other prolific child abusers to officials over the years.

As I waited for the decision on my fitness to practice, I busied myself with the final preparations for the first Your Life Your Story event which was taking place during Care Leavers Week. The event was bringing a group of care experienced adults together with published care experienced authors, Rosie Canning, Lisa Cherry and Paolo Hewitt to learn the techniques of storytelling in an emotionally supported space. Remarkably it was on the Eve of Your Life Your Story 2017 that I received confirmation from the Health Care Professionals Council that I was fit to practice without restriction and the case was closed.

With this awfulness finally over I spent the next two years managing and developing the supported accommodation service my business partner and I had co-owned for almost ten years as well as promoting therapeutic practice through my charity work with the Consortium for Therapeutic Communities and growing Your Life Your Story into a small charity. Then in the autumn of 2019, the director of a company operating three small children’s home’s my business partner and I had known for years, asked for our help following difficulties arising from the sudden and premature death of the director of care the previous year.

The homes had fallen to requires improvement during the inspection cycle that ended three weeks before this devastating loss and Ofsted approved plans to return the homes to good ratings were unavoidably disrupted. But it was proving difficult to fill the gap caused by this tragedy in short timescales and best efforts to get the homes back on track were undermined when the omission of significant information led to a disastrous admission to one of the homes. Staff were defeated by the teenager’s challenging behaviour and notice had already been given when a complaint from neighbours triggered an inspection and enforcement action closed the home two days before the placement was due to end. Deplorably, this also resulted in a settled young person being moved against his wishes when appeals to prevent this were hastily rejected.

Whilst we were of course saddened by this news the thought of resuming responsibility for registered children’s homes was not immediately appealing nevertheless we did agree to give it further consideration. We had no doubts about the benefits of connecting these children’s homes with our nearby supported accommodation services to provide better leaving care transitions for young people, but we were hesitant about putting ourselves at the mercy of Ofsted again and agreed we should discuss our plans with the regional inspection team before reaching a final decision. Reassured by what we believed were well received discussions and the withdrawal of the notice of proposal to cancel the registration of the home subject to enforcement action in response to our action plan we agreed to proceed.

By the time completion went ahead we had decided on closer inspection to close one of the homes as it was unfit for purpose due to its unsuitable location, property type and very limited potential for improvement. Refurbishment of the home suspended by Ofsted was well underway and variation requests had been submitted to increase the number of beds from two to three in the two remaining homes to ensure viability. A month later registered manager applications had been submitted as planned and all seemed to be on track until one of the variation requests was refused by a regional inspection manager who I was perturbed to remember from past experience plunged us both into a quandary.

The landlord of the home we had decided to close had given notice on the lease when he inadvertently found out about our plan which meant that by the beginning of February, we would have two registered beds and three children. Not wanting any of the children to become a casualty of circumstances beyond their control or ours we asked the decision maker to reconsider the variation request. When this was predictably refused we enquired at national level about the possibility of granting  a temporary variation to prevent a particularly vulnerable young person from being forced to accept unsuitable supported accommodation against his wishes. Disappointingly the senior leader we approached refused to get involved other than to express the view that legislation would not permit this. 

Within days the home manager received notification that her fit person interview had been scheduled to take place at the regional office which was little surprising because the fit person interview of our other manager had taken place in the home. The interview turned out to be a four-hour interrogation about distressing historical events conducted by two inspectors without advance warning. We raised concerns without response and the manager’s request for a copy of the notes was refused. Then during the second week of the new inspection cycle two inspectors arrived to complete a full inspection but home improvement work was taking place, one of the two living rooms was completely out of action and the manager was covering the shift whilst staff attended mandatory physical intervention training.

When it was suggested it might be better to come back another day as everywhere was in a mess and the home manager was on duty, they insisted on going ahead even though this meant locating themselves at the dining table and denying a young person who was ‘at home’ at the time access to this part of the house. Inevitably, inspector foisted efforts to prevent the young person from accessing to his own living space triggered behaviours that eventually led to the inspection being terminated and the lead inspector refusing to give a provisional judgement ahead of discussions with the regional inspection manager.

The next day the lead inspector notified the manager and placing authorities that the home had been rated inadequate. Two weeks later, after raising serious concerns about the inspection findings, inspector conduct and the judgement we were advised that Ofsted had found it necessary to deem the inspection incomplete and needed to make a further visit to the home. Interestingly, placing authorities were not informed that the notification was premature, again there was no response to concerns raised and no apology was given. The following week two more inspectors came to “complete” another two-day inspection and the home was eventually rated ‘Requires Improvement to be Good’. It had taken four inspectors the equivalent of six full inspection days in the home to arrive at this judgement.

By now mistrustful, we took contemporaneous notes during the verbal feedback and when the written report received was far more critical than the verbatim comments recorded, we were despairingly compelled to complain again but this was also to no avail. Eventually, seven months after the variation was first requested and four months since the appeal was submitted, we were finally notified of the decision to refuse the application because the home still did not have a registered manager. By then it was six months since the manager’s application had been accepted and a month later this was also refused.

Ofsted’s clumsy attempts to make believe these decisions had not been constructed were insulting. We did not accept the validity of such obviously contrived outcomes and in the absence of opportunity for constructive discussion a tribunal appeal against the decision to refuse the variation request was unavoidable. From our perspective Ofsted was looking more like a force for destruction than a force for improvement. As I remember it when care began shifting from the public sector to the independent sector part of the thinking behind the Care Standards Act 2000 was to charge registered home managers with legal duties that empowered them to make the right decisions for service users against organisational or business demands if necessary. This translated into the need for managers to be registered with the relevant regulatory body and registration based on a test of fitness but reasons why this had been allowed to become a secretive process alluded me.

My search for answers took me to the regulators code and I was immediately struck by the differences between the code which requires regulators to carry out their activities in a way that supports those they regulate to comply and grow, to help those they regulate meet their responsibilities to comply and to ensure that their approach to their regulatory activities is transparent and our much different experience. With the benefit of this new insight we submitted our application to the tribunal but after a year of hefty home improvement and refurbishment costs without the capacity or occupancy to generate the income necessary to cover them, funds did not stretch to legal fees and we were forced to represent ourselves. The hearing was listed for January 2020 and we worked diligently to pull together evidence of highly questionable procedures, unjustified outcomes and reasons to reverse the decision to refuse the variation request.

In the meantime, the new manager’s fit person interview took place on Friday 13th December, the following week two inspectors rated the home ‘improved effectiveness’ at the interim inspection and two days before Christmas Ofsted withdrew opposition to our appeal. This was welcome and at the same time confusing news because the home still did not have a registered manager which was the main reason given for refusing the application and opposing our appeal in the first place. But any foolish hopes that this signalled a better year to come were shattered two days after the New Year’s Celebrations came to an abrupt end when the new manager also received a notice of proposal to refuse registration which brings me to another quandary.

Safer recruitment procedures had been adhered to, the DBS was clear and validated references from previous employers did not provide any reason why the new manager should not be employed to manage a children’s home. Ofsted found reasons to disagree but refused to share their evidence and relied on GDPR exemptions to refuse the request for a copy of the notes from the fit person interview. The appeal timescale is restricted to 28 days, but subject access requests can take up to 3 months and in any event one of the companies had gone into compulsory liquidation and the official receiver confirmed the company records were not available which is in itself a very worrying breach of children’s homes regulations and employment law.

As a result, the new manager was forced to prepare her appeal without sight of the evidence relied upon by Ofsted which unsurprisingly was refused, and she was disqualified from working in the children’s workforce with immediate effect. A waiver for her to work as an assistant manager was refused and efforts to interrogate the reasons for this resulted in threats to call into question the suitability of the responsible individual if he requested a waiver allowing her to work in a non-managerial role or for the company in any guise. Ironically replies to subject access requests received a few days later provided the evidence Ofsted had refused to share as well as evidence that refutes the legitimacy of the untested information relied upon by decision makers.

By now the world was facing the threat of CoronaVirus and we were all realising the true value and identity of our key workers. As messages of love and gratitude filled our TV screens and spilled out onto the streets the absurdness of a decision-making process that had ejected a much needed, qualified and experienced caregiver from the workforce consumed us. With this nagging reality in mind we wrote a to HMCI Amanda Spielman and The Children’s Minister in search of sense and justice but neither felt personally compelled to reply. Four days later on the same day the Prime Minister announced ‘lock down’ our former manager received confirmation that her tribunal appeal application had been received but it will likely be months before a hearing date is set CoronaVirus may well extend timescales even further.

Now as I stand at my front door at 8pm every Thursday along with my neighbours and my grandchildren on FaceTime to applaud and give thanks to those on the frontline I am even more sickened by these events. It is just not right that staff who have worked in children’s homes for years  judged unfit only by Ofsted are being disqualified from the children’s workforce by a process that attributes certainty to covertly recorded  and unsubstantiated information and completely ignores the potential for decisions to be deliberately engineered for unethical purposes. If we accept that these decisions are reliable without question it unequivocally means that unfit people are caring for the most vulnerable children in society and safer recruitment and child protection arrangements designed to prevent this are not fit for purpose.

This is either a terrifying discovery by the regulator or a highly questionable application of law intended to keep unfit people out of the children’s social care not to eject qualified and experienced staff from an already besieged workforce. Paradoxically, Ofsted say that having a registered manager in post is the single most important factor that determines the quality of care provided. But a quarter of all children’s homes do not have a registered manager and decisions to refuse registration on the basis of untested judgements made by inspectors who are not experts in the field of residential care have contributed to this and accelerated an exodus of disillusioned practitioners from caregiving roles.

Incredibly at the same time Ofsted want us to believe that as a result of their efforts only three percent of children’s homes are inadequate. They say that eighty-two percent of children’s homes are good or outstanding and only fifteen percent require improvement which according to Ofsted’s own criteria means, “there are no serious or widespread failures that result in children’s welfare not being safeguarded or promoted” in ninety-seven percent of the two thousand two hundred and twenty one children homes inspected in the period to 31 August 2019. Yet at the same time, we hear from The Children’s Commissioner for England that the care system is struggling to cope, that nearly a quarter of all children in care are over 16 and too many are ‘pinballing’ around the system and daily media reports expose care horror stories. 

There is no doubt that children’s social care is in chaos or that the evidence supports calls for a wholesale review of children’s social care including previously raised questions about whether Ofsted itself is fit for purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections of a Caregiver

I joined the children’s workforce in 1976 soon after newly formed social services departments introduced generic social work, approved schools were closed, observation and assessment centres were the new elite and children in family group homes were moved to family placements. The Children Act received Royal Assent on 16 November 1989, an alleged epidemic of child abuse swept the country, and by the end of the Twentieth Century residential childcare was on trial. 

The story first started to unfold in public view in 1989 when allegations of abuse were made by 57 residents and former residents against Ralph Morris the proprietor of Castle Hill School in Ludlow and investigations in Staffordshire, North Wales and Leicestershire followed.  My husband and I fostered a boy who had been placed at Castle Hill in the early 1980’s, I visited him at the school with his social worker and met Morris the same day. When news of the allegations reached the media, I did not doubt they were true, there was just something about him that had struck me as fake… just not quite right. Much like my first impressions of the deputy children’s resource centre manager I inherited when I worked for a large local authority in the Northwest. He was using his work computer to write letters requesting porn from contact magazines that he kept in his filing cabinet alongside photographs of unrelated women and children and carrier bags stuffed with letters from debt collectors, refused loan applications, county court summons and bank statements that revealed he was stealing from public funds. After realising he’d been found out he fled, but justice caught up with him and he eventually served time for his crimes. As did Morris who was convicted and sentenced to 12 years on 12th April 1991. Fortunately, our foster son did not witness or experience any abuse during his short time at the school although he knows others now in their fifties who did and have suffered the affects ever since. 

By the beginning of the new millennium well over 100 care workers had been prosecuted and more than ninety police trawling operations resulted in at least one thousand investigations into individual children’s homes across the country. For those who may not know, trawling is a questionable approach used by the police investigating historical abuse that begins with a suspect or an allegation and ends with the discovery of crimes not previously reported. Whilst many of these complaints are undeniably true and have helped convict workers who unforgivably betrayed the trust placed in them, not all care workers were abusing children and some allegations were fabricated and resulted in serious miscarriages of justice. Indeed, the police in Northumbria who launched Operation Rose in 1997 were accused of ruining the lives of staff and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money. This three-year investigation led to 32 people being charged with 142 offences, of these six were found guilty and received custodial sentences totalling 25 years, one other pleaded guilty, and four suspects died prior to trial. Without doubt the participation of field social workers and child protection workers in these operations ensured that a number of guilty people were convicted. But according to the late Richard Webster, the British author who suggested hysteria lay behind some abuse scandals, social workers were also significant in unleashing a witch hunt of extreme proportions upon residential workers who they treated like the poor relations. Careers were lost and lives were shattered as journalists led the way to the false belief that children’s homes are synonymous with abuse and care workers cannot be trusted which has nurtured prejudice, made scapegoats of many and influenced legislation and policy ever since. 

Remarkably the rampant onslaught of child sexual exploitation in the same period did not attract the same media interest until revelations of an estimated 1,500 victims in Rotherham sparked a national scandal over a decade later. Only then did the public learn that Rochdale sexual health worker Sara Botham had made more than 180 attempts between 2003 and 2014 to alert police and social services to patterns of sexual abuse but was told the witnesses were unreliable. This was a heinous crime against children on a scale not previously seen but sadly all too often the police viewed it as a crime against undesirables… a lifestyle choice. Children as young as 11 were deemed to be having consensual sexual intercourse when in fact they were being raped and abused by adults according to the findings of Alexis Jay OBE who chaired the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997-2013. The report describes how one mother was assessed by a social worker as not able to accept her 12 years old daughter was growing up when she voiced her concern about her being sexually active, going missing and getting drunk with older males. In another example a child who was just 13 when she was groomed by a violent sexual predator, raped and trafficked was blamed by social workers for ‘placing herself at risk of sexual exploitation and danger. Staff in children’s homes are described as powerless to stop older children introducing younger more vulnerable children to predatory adult males and most disturbingly the report reveals that 15 years after concerns were first being raised by care workers in children’s homes Ofsted rated safeguarding services in Rotherham as adequate in their overall effectiveness and capacity for improvement in 2010. 

My own experience of caring for victims of child sexual exploitation during this time leaves me with no uncertainty that the police generally believed these girls were wasting police time and care workers were not doing their job properly. Regrettably this was a belief that social workers were only too willing to accept but belief is not fact. In reality, many care workers were putting themselves at risk in their efforts to keep victims safe by following men who brazenly picked up children in cars from the front doors of children’s homes and gathering vital evidence from number plates and mobile phone numbers to names and descriptions of perpetrators to assist police with the detection of these criminals. Staff working 24 hour shifts regularly stayed up all night walking the streets looking for missing children or waiting for them to come home all too often still under the influence of unknown substances and smelling of alcohol and sex. Or sitting in hospital waiting rooms with self-harming and suicidal children, those waiting for invasive forensic medical examinations and frightened young mums about to give birth. Days were spent trying to bring normality back into the lives of these severely traumatised children and all too often fielding criticism. 

Then as the second decade of the new millennium got underway, we witnessed thousands of people rioting in cities and towns across England and five people lost their lives. Two years before this Harriet Sergeant, a journalist, author and Research Fellow of the Centre for Policy Studies had published an article in the Daily Mail about how young boys abandoned by their parents and betrayed by schools were turning to criminal gangs for protection and a sense of belonging. At the time she was researching a report on why so many black Caribbean and white working class boys are failing and as the first anniversary of the riots approached ‘Among the Hoods’ the story of her friendship with a teenage gang was published on 3rd July 2012. It describes a three year journey that took her from job centres and the care system to prison and failing schools as she tried to change their lives. Sadly, there is no fairy tale ending and the book ends with the gang leader and two other gang members are in prison, one is in psychiatric hospital and one appears to be a successful criminal. 

By the end of the decade knife crime hit a ten year high with almost 22,300 knife and weapon offences recorded and children as young as 11 were being used to deal heroin and crack cocaine by ‘County Lines’ a multi-million pounds industry linked to murder and sexual abuse. Against this backdrop it will likely not come as a surprise that the number of children in care has risen dramatically. There are now 20,000 more children in care than in 2009, a significant number coming into care are over 16 and now account for almost a quarter of the total number of children in care. For these teenagers this is often too little too late as not only are they vulnerable to sexual exploitation, running away, gangs, trafficking and drug misuse as warned by the children’s commissioner, many are already drug addicted, knife carrying, pimp controlled victims of neglect, abuse and exploitation and the impact of this is manifest in high risk behaviour, acute vulnerability and rejection of the care available. This is evident the number of placement breakdowns in foster homes and children’s homes, the increased use of lawful supported accommodation that was neither designed or, equipped for this purpose and the emergence of unregistered children’s homes provided illegally and used unlawfully by local authorities. 

It is little wonder that the care system is buckling under the sheer weight of numbers and this is not the time to waste effort on recrimination, it is time to press pause on the blame game and work collaboratively and respectfully to find solutions. 

This must begin with acceptance that we have been letting our children down for years and acknowledgement that harmful and dangerous people gain access to the children’s workforce, wreak havoc and cause reprehensible harm. I’ve met some over the past four decades during my own journey through public, voluntary and private sector care. Part of the problem is that measures introduced were not fool proof in the first place and have since then been rendered even less affective by GDPR with many previous employers now only willing to confirm start-finish dates in references and DBS checks do not reveal undetected crimes or help to predict who will commit the next offence. 

Indeed, none of these processes prevented former children’s nurse, and NHS manager Carl Beech from becoming a school governor or working as a volunteer for the NSPCC. Following his conviction for perverting the course of justice on 22 July 2019 the NSPCC were keen to confirm its volunteers are subject to the most strenuous and thorough safeguarding checks. But it has to be said these did not prevent Beech whose false claims of abuse were initially described as “credible and true” by police, from joining the NSPCC in 2012 as a volunteer to deliver ‘Speak Out Stay Safe’ workshops in schools to children as young as five. He resigned and handed back his ID only after being charged with four counts of making indecent photographs of children, one count of possessing indecent images of children and one count of voyeurism in June 2017. At the time this case raised concern about the role of journalists who wrote the stories over two years, alleging a powerful group of men from the British establishment had raped and murdered children between 1975 and 1984. But no action was taken against them and regrettably some journalists still compete for market share and prominence by unleashing embellished reports on the court of public opinion of which Teens in unregulated homes face ‘organised abuse’. How did children’s homes become centres of profit making and abuse? and   Privatising children’s homes is playing into the hands of the abusers are but a few. I am not saying these reports are completely untrue, there are without question elements of truth in them all, but all too often truth is being distorted to serve a particular agenda. 30 years ago, poor journalism, unleashed a witch hunt on children’s social care with dire consequences for children, caregivers, families and society.  Since then the media has pointed the finger of blame at police and social workers for not recognising and preventing the organised sexual exploitation of thousands of children, parents and teachers for the rise in knife crime and teenage gangs and most recently private sector children’s homes and supported accommodation for exposing children to abuse which has spearheaded a campaign for tighter controls and more regulation. 

What the media is not reporting is that on closer examination increased demand and regulation are the main factors driving the increased use of supported accommodation and unregistered children’s homes. Or that that lawfully, provided, responsibly commissioned and quality assured supported accommodation has been in use for 20 years, that private sector children’s homes are not all operated by large private equity backed children’s homes companies, many are owner led small companies that are being adversely affected by unfair regulatory processes. Or that the poor quality and illegal services for would not exist if local authorities did not feel an acute need to use these services and were not paying for them. 

The challenge of protecting vulnerable children from dangerous adults has never been greater and in my experience informed opinion this is definitely not the time for more reactive policy making driven by a media led blame culture that has dominated children’s social care for almost half a century. 

Amanda Knowles MBE

Published 3 April 2020

Memoirs of a Caregiver

You don’t have to look for bad news about children’s social care, it finds you. For the last 40 years stories of child protection failures and institutional abuse have reached living rooms, workplaces and communities.

I joined the children’s social care workforce in February 1976 not long after the childcare system in the UK had been rocked by the death of Maria Colwell at the hands of her mother’s violent partner, after she was returned to her mother’s care when the courts discharged the care order. At that time concerns about child protection, children ‘drifting’ in care for long periods of time with no hope of returning home and debate about how to deal with young offenders was heavily influencing legislators, policymakers and practitioners. 

Three decades later I was employed in the private sector as a care director with responsibility for a group of small children’s homes and schools. I was by then a registered social worker, had foster children in their 40’s and had witnessed the North Wales child abuse scandal, ‘Pin Down’ in Staffordshire, the founding of ‘Child Line’ during the 1980’s and the trials of Frank Beck in Leicestershire and Ralph Morris in Shropshire. I had uncovered institutional neglect, professional misconduct and serious fraud, believed to be in the region of half a million pounds in today’s money during the 1990’s and at the beginning of the New Millennium had welcomed the introduction of National Minimum Standards for Children’s Homes. I had seen the diminishing use of residential care, been involved in two working parties looking into child sexual exploitation and experienced the transfer of regulatory responsibility from the Commisision for Social Care Inspection (CSCI)  to Ofsted on 1 April 2007.

In recent years, the shift from public and voluntary sector providers to private care providers has often been blamed for our failing care system but in my experience informed opinion, failure is not sector specific. It is about organisational culture, people and behaviour and it is undeniable that the care system in England and Wales had been failing for a very long time before the shift to private sector commissioning. Also, that it continues to do so in spite of the attention given by ‘expert’ advisors, politicians, regulators and the ever increasing number of professionals involved in the life of a ‘looked after child’ which has not translated into positive outcomes for far too many.

Following the introduction of National Minimum Standards for Children’s Homes and the first joint Chief Inspectors report on arrangements to safeguard children at the beginning of the new millennium, I was shocked to uncover the use of dangerous and unauthorised physical intervention in children’s homes that I became responsible for in 2009. Particularly, as there was undeniable evidence in logbooks and inspection reports showing inspectors and social workers had overlooked for some considerable time the excessive use of physical intervention, the dangerous use of prone restraint by untrained staff and failure to seek medical attention for injuries suffered. Records showed that between July 2005 and July 2007 one young woman was physically restrained 107 times for periods of up to 14 hours, her liberty was restricted, she suffered injury and complained. On 2 occasions she was restrained in ‘prone’ position for 62 and 65 minutes respectively and was eventually admitted to inpatient psychiatric care.

“The home records all sanctions and physical intervention appropriately, sampling these documents supported appropriate interventions and sanctions were being deployed.” (Ofsted inspection report 11.09.2007)

This report was published just ten weeks after the inquest into the restraint related death of Gareth Myatt who died at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in April 2004 recorded a verdict of accidental death and made sweeping critisms of the Youth Justice Board.

When bringing my concerns to the attention of Child Protection Services, The Children’s Rights Director Roger Morgan and HMCI Christine Gilbert and revisiting it again with her successor HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw following the first social care lecture hosted by Ofsted on 1 February 2012 did not trigger an inquiry I raised them with The Children’s Minister and The Children’s Commissioner. The Office of The Children’s Minister agreed, “… it is essential that evidence of past abuse is thoroughly investigated…” and was hopeful that that the introduction of a new inspection framework would mean future inspections would be much better at identifying and tackling poor practice. The Children’s Commissioner also agreed the issues raised were extremely serious and suggested I “should consider approaching the Local Government Ombudsman to request an inquiry…”

The Local Government Ombudsman advised that only complaints made by the young people concerned can be investigated.

I was dumbfounded that beyond the vindication of Alison Taylor, the children’s home manager who was sacked when she bravely blew the whistle on physical and sexual child abuse in Wales, and inspite of masses of undeniable evidence, that vulnerable children were still expected to know they are being abused, be capable of pursuing a complaint and have the understanding and tenacity to do so. Worse still, was the ‘catch 22’ created by this particularly as there had been countless stories of unchallenged wrongdoing by those in positions of power and whistleblower’s being treated as ‘troublemakers’ since the 1980’s. The most famous of these being the allegations of sexual abuse against Jimmy Saville that were finally exposed around the same time and led to the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse.

By the time the IICSA was announced by Theresa May on 7 July 2014 I was aware of allegations against a childcare worker accused of sexually abusing three girls while working at three different children’s homes. Two of these girls and the homes where they lived at the time of the alleged abuse were known to me, as was the accused. I had attended the first child protection strategy meeting and prepared a report advising  why I believed the allegations to be true. 

When the defendant was described in court as a good person with an impeccable work record, collusion had already been introduced as a motive for malicious allegations. The jury had been told that two of the three victims went to the same school but it was not made clear that this was at different times. Shocked by the inaccuracy of this, I protested the omission of evidence from the defendant’s personnel file, relevant child protection records including information sent to the local authority designated officer and the school’s register. It was obvious this was news to the barristers who uncomfortably explained that new evidence could not be introduced during the trial despite this meaning the potential miscarriage of justice created by this could not be avoided. My concerns were heightened still further when no attention was paid to the ‘under oath’ testimony of a witness who admitted she had not reported a previous related disclosure. And, even more so when barristers advised this serious child protection failure was not a matter for the court, and letters to Chief Constable and the Police commissioner were not answered and remain unanswered to this day.

Unsurprisingly, the defendant was found ‘not guilty’ of all offences against two of the three girls, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on charges in relation to the third girl. Sadly, any hope that this disastrous miscarriage of justice could be lessened in anyway by a retrial was destroyed a few months later when the victim understandably refused to go through it again.

The trauma of this trial will never leave me as I have no doubt these three girls like so many more were betrayed; a guilty person walked free, serious child protection breaches were ignored, no action was taken against those responsible and tax-payers money was completely wasted on a prosecution destined to fail. Worse still was the complete failure to seek an explanation at the time these serious concerns were raised and as a result of this ‘wrongs’ were not corrected, harm caused was not appeased and lessons were not learned.

It felt like history had repeated itself and the emotional price of remaining silent had become too costly when faced with false allegations of professional misconduct I finally wrote to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (IICSE) on 29 July 2017. I viewed the inquiry as a ‘safe place’ to tell the story of a ‘gagged’ cargiver and I held on to a glimmer of hope that the cult of silence that hides wrongdoing, ignores truth and allows dangerous people to remain in the children’s workforce would finally be exposed. But, this was as swiftly extinguished when I was politely invited to appreciate that it was “not possible to investigate every allegation of institutional failure” in response to the professional experiences I brought to the attention of the inquiry.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel

Soon after, with the support of The Consortium for Therapeutic Communities and The Care Leavers Foundation I organised the first Your Life Your Story workshop for care leavers with literary aspirations. The event, facilitated by care experienced authors Rosie Canning, Lisa Cherry and Paulo Hewitt was an inspirational experience that led to Your Life Your Story becoming a small charity. YLYS now brings care experienced adults and caregivers together with published authors, artists and poets to share stories and learn the techniques of storytelling through the arts. Stories are corroborated, past injustices are revealed, supportive relationships flourish and wisdom emerges.

A year after, the first Your Life Your Story workshop the first Your Life Your Story inspired book was published.

The author was known to me as a young teenager in care and our paths had crossed again the year before his 50th birthday. The joy of this ‘meant to be’ reunion will never leave me – it was the best reward ever. Knowing that a young person has survived inconceivable childhood trauma, an ill-informed care system and lived a good life beyond it, is more than any caregiver could hope for. As we caught up on the last 30 years the significance of our shared history emerged and along with it aspiration to amplify the collective voice of care experienced adults and caregivers. In doing so, we hoped to contribute to the improvement of children’s social care by handing down lessons and knowledge from one generation to the next through storytelling and the arts.

David had grown up in the care of the state during the 60’s,70’s and 80’s where he suffered inexcusable abuse, and he left believing nobody cared about the wrongdoing he had experienced. His efforts to speak out were punished, and he was silenced until now. His book ‘Oi’ tells a story that in many ways mirror’s my own, it is a personal journey through decades of a harrowing childcare system.

Although it is true care fails too many, it is equally true that by far the majority of caregivers do not deliberately fail children and they are not the child abusers they are too often portrayed to be. In fact the vast majority try extremely hard to care for children seriously harmed by acute trauma, neglect and abuse, suffered long before the care system intervened. But it is the horror stories that reach the media not stories of the valient efforts of caregivers to keep them safe. At the height of public outrage about the sexual exploitation of girls in Rochdale there was no interest in stories about staff repairing trauma driven destruction, mopping up the blood of self-harm and walking the streets in the middle of the night looking for missing children. Or those following cars driven by unstopable men who were brazenly picking girls up at the front door of children’s homes, girls pleading with staff to go back because there was a gun on the back seat or the numerous occasions when the police refused to assist. 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” Maya Angelou

Yet every time there has been a major scandal there has been a hunt for ‘scalps’ and calls for more regulation in the hope this will solve the problem despite research that proves more rules and hard enforcement just does not work. During a recent conversation with a programme maker I pointed out that most people want to do the right thing but because enforcement thinking is geared to the punishment of deliberate rule breakers and does not differentiate between those who try to behave appropriately and those who do not there are unintended consequences. Evident in placement breakdowns, persistently poor outcomes and over-representation of care experience within the prison population, street homelessness, drug addiction centres, psychiatric wards, infants removed from care experienced mothers, early death amongst careleavers and the impact of mistrust and on the workforce.

If regulation is driving improvement as claimed by Ofsted surely there is a need to understand why outcomes refute this.

On 23 January 2019 Amanda Spielman informed the Commons Public Accounts Committee Ofsted was seeing an increase in legal challenges to its reports and in a particular rise in the number of tribunals involving children’s homes. She said, it is understandable but frustrating that, “people will throw everything they can at critical reports”, and added that winning a Court of Appeal case against an academy trust that challenged its damning inspection report was “a lovely Christmas present”. The legal bill for the academy trust was in excess of £700,000, Amanda Spielman could not say how much Ofsted was spending on legal fees when asked, but this publicly celebrated win confirms my worst fears about the dominance of the ‘prove it game’ in regulation.

A year later, observations made in close proximity to Ofsted judgements and decision making practices, in particular the ‘fit person’ process, have reinforced this view, resurrected historical concerns and reopened old wounds. Of course, it goes without saying that it is essential for a registered provider or manager of a children’s home to be a person of integrity and good character, suitably qualified and experienced. But ominously any applicant who is refused registration becomes disqualified from fostering a child privately, having a financial interest, being involved the management or employed in a children’s home or working as a child minder without written consent from Ofsted even though they are not proven guilty of any wrongdoing.  

Previously in situations where it was likely that Ofsted would refuse to register a manager (or refuse a registration) the inspector would inform the applicant of the likely outcome. This gave the applicant time to withdraw their application, which they are well within their rights to do and Ofsted have to accept the withdrawal. Ofsted say this practice was discontinued because in a small number of circumstances they come across people who they do not believe should be operating within social care and want to be able to ‘refuse’ them without giving them opportunity to withdraw.

Given the lack of protection against unemployment imposed by this, it is incredible that Ofsted is allowed to use an exemption in data protection law to refuse an applicant access to the ‘untested’ evidence relied upon by inspectors to reach a ‘behind closed doors’ decision with such far reaching implications. Then to impose a 28-day time limit on an appeal when GDPR allows up to 3 months for the release of information needed to defend the decsion. Most significantly because the impact of refused registration is immediate, the right to a tribunal appeal is delayed, the emotional and financial cost is prohibitive, and the harm caused is irreversible.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

My concern is that what Amanda Spielman described a lovely Christmas present and the rise in the number of legal challenges has not raised alarm. The willingness to accept that this is explained by bad people just trying to hide a critical report or wilful opposition of authority  is as dangerous as the willingness to accept that 96 people “caused their own deaths” at Hillsborough in 1989 and the victims of widespread organised child sexual exploitation were “making a lifestyle choice.”

When I joined the children’s workforce in 1976 children were not being listened to and terrible abuses were perpetrated against them, many of their stories were reflected in the publication of ‘Handle with Care’ the report of an investigation into the care system undertaken by Harriet Sergeant. I was at the commissioning conference in 2006 when Harriet presented her findings to a room full of professionals, many in fractious denial of what I knew to be true. It was my thirtieth year as a caregiver and I had witnessed first-hand the failures so well documented in her report.

Sadly 14 years later I still see a system that is failing the and a workforce under attack. Stories about careers being terminated, providers being put out of business and good people being pushed into resignation, unemployment, bankruptsy, destitution and despair are not being heard and the part regulation is playing in this does not appear to be on the governements radar. Poor inspection reports terminate careers and close homes,  fear of poor inspection reports ends placements and puts good outcomes at risk, and dubious GDPR exemptions legitimise covert decsion making processes, make challenge difficult and justice impossible.

Of course this is not to say that when wrongdoing is identified perpetrators should not be held accountable and punished or that ‘unfit’ individuals should be allowed to work in childcare. I am simply saying that it is my firm belief that transparency keeps everyone safe and when things go wrong we need to learn from our mistakes. But we can only do that if we can share openly why the mistake happened and identify the cause.  To do this there needs to be in an open trusting relationship between the regulator and the regulated that removes incentive for hiding negligence and wrong doing, stands up to public scrutiny and does not blame people for making a mistake or worse still for someone else’s mistake.

The problem as I see it, is that the relationship imitates one of parent-child with inspectors putting themselves in a position of acutal and moral authority over caregivers and providers and preference for rule focused ‘tick-box’ compliance and petty enforcement will prevent good behaviour rather than promote it. There are without doubt individuals working in childcare that we all think should not be there and examples of caregivers and providers who have escaped accountability for negligence, in some cases serious wrongdoing and even criminal behaviour. But this does not justify hidden processes that adversely affect innocent staff, managers and stakeholders and assume that public authorities,  specifically inspectors, always behave ethically and treat those they regulate fairly.

Common threads running through the perennial maze of children’s social care is the misuse of power, the avoidance of accountability and the absence of apology.

When I reached out to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on 29 July 2017 I did not know that Phil Frampton of the Survivors of Organised and Institutional Abuse (SOIA) and founder of The Care Leavers Foundation had formally withdrawn his support from the inquiry seven weeks earlier. Ironically, I also didn’t know that amongst the concerns that led to this decision was the absence of an investigative approach and the failure to include “whistleblowers” in the Truth Project led by the inquiry.

By then I had resigned my position in regulated children’s services and reported the allegation of professional misconduct threatened against me to the Health and Care Professionals Council and the Information Commissioners Office. Even though no action was taken against me the cost of protecting evidence the allegation relied upon ran into tens of thousands of pounds and put a very big hole in my retirement fund.  Without doubt, defending the truth had demanded a high price but unlike Alison Taylor who lost her career in the 1980’s, I have not spoken publicly about my experiences until now.   

Why now…?

We know that the number of children being separated from their parents is higher now than at any point since I joined the children’s work force and paradoxically, we also know that too many children in care suffer harm and care leavers are still over-represented in all marginalised groups but we don’t know why. Unfortunately, the search for answers to these failures has led to scapegoating and a regulatory system that is designed around people who deliberately break the rules and must be deterred by punishment.

But regulation has not delivered the improvements promised and there have been unintended consequences. Not least, fear of poor inspection ratings fueling placement breakdowns and increased demand arising from anxiety elsewhere in the sytem that has led to the use of unregistered provision for young children and vulnerable teenagers recently exposed by the media.  Worse still good people are being expelled from the workforce whilst unethical and dangerous practice remains hidden and for some accountability is escaped.

Shortly after Your Life Your Story 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse announced its final investigation into Effective Leadership of Child Protection. In doing so it will consider the evidence of “whistleblowers”, recommendations from inspectorates, serious case reviews and similar reports. It will also take into account learning from past institutional failures and “think” about embedding a “learning” not a “blaming” culture. But I have not been contacted by the inquiry team with any queries about the evidence I submitted in 2017 as suggested in the letter received when I expressed dissatisfaction after being advised that it was not possible to investigate every allegation of institutional failure.

So, it remains to be seen whether IICSA proves to me and other “whistleblowers” that it is any more than the ‘tick box’ exercise that led Phil Frampton to withdraw his support. Or a “talking shop” for highly paid academics and lawyers to produce endless glossy reports as it was described, by the late Anna Racoon, staunch defender of liberty, freedom and most of all the truth, who wrote about this shortly before she died.

At the very least I hope that it triggers change not just another review and in the meantime I will live in the hope that the narrative of lived experience and the collective voice of care experienced adults and caregivers will be heard and lessons are learned.

Amanda Knowles MBE

24 January 2020