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.