I want every child in care to have access to a stable home environment that is able to meet their needs and give them the love and care they need to thrive in every aspect of their life. They should be in familial environments that can provide them with care until they are at least 18.
The introduction of these regulations and guidance provides us with an opportunity to ask ourselves whether the level of support that these standards will impose would be good enough for our own children. This is the question I have asked myself as I responded to this consultation. I have been struck by some of the reflection’s children have shared with me about their experiences of supported accommodation since taking up post as Children’s Commissioner. I have been impressed by their resilience and strength. One child told me:
It was a whole load of different people of different ages thrown into a house. Even though there’s people with you that can be so ‘. You’re young and living with literal strangers and there was nothing to bring us togetherGirl, 16,
Reflecting on unregulated accommodation.
But they are still children, and often some of the most vulnerable in the country. We know that Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) are more likely to be placed in these settings. These are children who have faced some extremely challenging situations and experienced complex trauma.
My Help at Hand have supported many children who have been subject to exploitation in these supported accommodation settings. These 16 and 17 year olds are just like any other looked after child, they need care which will allow them to recover and lay strong foundations to help them thrive in all aspects of their lives.
To me it is clear that these reforms do not go far enough. The proposed reforms, as they are, mean thatchildren aged 16 and 17 can still be placed in settings where they legally cannot receive this much needed care. While I welcome the intention to drive up standards in this sector, I believe that these standards should be viewed as an interim step with a clear expiry date. My ultimate aim is to get to a point where every child in care is living in a setting that is able to provide them with care rather than just support.
Last year I set out my ambitions for social care reform and as we await the Government’s strategy for the implementation of the Care Review, I want to emphasise the need for us all to be striving for the best for all children in care. I want every child to be listened and responded to, to have relationships that are trusting and consistent, to have a stable home environment and be able to access all of the practical help they need to follow their dreams. I have examined the proposed standards through the lens of these ambitions. While my goal is for all children to live in settings that provide them with care, I believe that there is more that must be done in the interim to improve these standards in order to keep children safe. In my response I set out tangible changes that we can take now to strengthen the guidance and standards. These changes include calls for:
- A greater focus on the importance of relationships. Just because 16- and 17-year-olds are living in supported accommodation doesn’t mean that they are not children who need loving and nurturing relationships that provide them with a stable base. We must remember they are children and use this language to reflect our duty to them as looked after children.
- Clearer guidance around the need to review children’s care if vulnerabilities arise. The guidance should be much clearer on which children will be most at risk if placed in supported accommodation, and the steps that should be taken when risks are identified. These children are also often some of the most vulnerable children in our society. I believe that settings should be made acutely aware of the vulnerabilities that children may face and be prepared to review the suitability of the setting whenever a child expresses the need for a level of care the settings are unable to provide.
- Clearer guidance around the management and staffing structure. I am concerned that the current draft of the guidance around the management and staffing structure will not adequately equip settings to make sure that children are able to develop and maintain consistent relationships with adults. And in the absence of strong sibling relationships – which we know are often disrupted when a child is placed in supported accommodation – I am deeply concerned that these children are at risk of becoming isolated at a time in adolescence when they need love and care most.
- The need for strong accountability mechanisms and a focus on improvement. Across the expected reforms to children’s social care system, I have been clear that we need a laser focus on system improvement, with strong accountability measures in place to facilitate that. Yet, the draft guidance falls substantially short of ensuring this, with a stark lack of oversight at management and inspectorate levels.
As I set out in this response to the government consultation my message is clear. Let’s use these reforms as an opportunity to make sure every child, no matter where they are in the system, is receiving excellent high-quality care right the way until adulthood.