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Social workers and care staff will have a unique opportunity to help shape future provision of children’s residential care.

A comprehensive, independent review of children’s residential care has been announced by Prime Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and aims to put an end to “a life of disadvantage for some of the most vulnerable children in care.” 

It will be headed by Sir Martin Narey, the former Head of the Prison and Probation Services in England and Wales and CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s, who has pledged to seek the views of “staff, children, care leavers and those with experience of this sector.”

‘Best social work in residential homes’

The review, which will report next spring, will look at which children should be in residential care; how outcomes can be improved for the young people who live in care; and what improvements could be made to the way that residential care homes are commissioned, delivered, regulated and inspected.

Sir Martin has acknowledged that “some of the best social work” he has seen has taken place in residential homes, carried out by “outstanding staff.” However, he conceded that doubts remain over whether residential care is used for the right children.

And while funding for adult social care will be underpinned by local councils raising a 2% council tax levy, there was no extra funding for children’s services in Chancellor George Osborne’s recent spending review.

Report directly to PM

Local councils spend £1bn a year looking after 8,000 children in homes across the country but evidence points to these children being less likely to do well at school, more likely to be absent or excluded, and more likely to take part in risky behaviour.

Sir Martin will report directly to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary over the review which Ms Morgan wants to see shine a spotlight on “on what works, identify barriers to success and end those practices that are holding these children back them from a life full of opportunity.”

Improvements under way

Steps already taken in the government’s programme to improve the outcomes of children in residential care include:
  • Introducing new quality standards for children’s homes,
  • Changing the regulations so new homes only open in safe areas, and ensuring homes already open in less safe areas demonstrate they can keep children safe;
  • Improving the quality of care by requiring staff and managers in homes to be suitably qualified;
  • Working with Ofsted to strengthen their inspection and intervention powers so ‘good’ is the only acceptable standard;
  • Putting more information on the quality and location of children’s homes into the public domain. 
While improvements are under way, it is hoped that provision will be taken to a new level with this root-and-branch review of children’s residential care.

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