I, like many, am shocked to learn about the safeguarding incidents and concerns in children’s homes and specialist settings which have been uncovered by the BBC today. Children in care deserve the same care and love anyone would want for their own child, and I deeply concerned that too many young people in care do not feel nurtured, loved, or respected.
These new findings go beyond a lack of appropriate care and reveal actual harm. I am appalled by the testimony which has been shared, and am clear that these children deserved so much better.
Sadly, I am not surprised by this latest news. While many homes offer excellent care, standards across children’s social care remain far too uneven, creating a postcode lottery system whereby some children’s homes do not operate in the best interests of the young people they house. The latest Ofsted ratings of children’s social care across local authorities show that 76 local services remain Inadequate or Require Improvement. We simply cannot continue with a system where a child in Newham may experience an inadequate level of care, whilst a similar young person in care up the road in Redbridge may receive outstanding support.
I have therefore been calling for widespread systemic changes, including a review into the ways in which children’s homes operate, how their services are contracted, and provision monitored. This is not an attempt to undermine those parts of the private sector which provide vital resource and additional capacity, but a call to arms for us all to consider how we can build a social care sector fit for the 21st century. We need to consider the merits of regional commissioning and the benefits of empowering local authorities and the third sector to directly deliver and manage new homes. And we need to embolden Ofsted and the Department for Education to better monitor the companies who operate within the system, so we have a clearer picture of the performance of suppliers as well as individual homes.
Core to this vision are the principles of accountability, transparency, and leadership. We need to ensure local authorities are properly planning for the homes that children in care might need, publishing those insights and working with a variety of providers to deliver capacity; we need to build a social care system which nurtures and trains-up staff to become experts in their field so they can deliver outstanding care to young people; and we need stronger accountability mechanisms to underpin all this. Crucially, we need to make sure that the voice of children and young people is central to decision-making about their care and that they are listened to throughout their care journey.
I am clear the entire system needs radical reform. As I said in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, published at the end of May, implementation of such change will be key. That is why, before the review publication, I called for an Implementation Board to be established, so that we can take forward the right things to improve the lives of children in care. I was pleased to see this Board announced in response to the Care Review. I have laid the gauntlet down that we need to deliver change now. We need to think boldly and act decisively to drive out poor performance and make sure that children’s homes truly work for children.