Coalition urged to find funds to help children’s homes improve

Pressure is mounting on government to ensure funding to help children’s homes to improve does not suffer, in light of plans to instigate a sector-led approach to strengthen residential childcare.

Private provider Tribal was awarded a contract to manage improvement support for children’s homes under the last government in March, resulting in the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care (NCERCC) at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) losing its funding.

But last week, the coalition government announced that the Tribal contract has been dropped. “Instead of reinvesting in an external contract, ministers have decided that the most effective and cost-effective way of achieving this change is to work in partnership with the sector,” a spokeswoman for the Department for Education said. She added that savings made from the scrapping of the Tribal contract will be utilised in this process.

Roger Kline, social care officer at children’s services union Aspect, warned a return to sector-led improvement must not be seen as a cheap alternative. “If you want things to get better you have to put money in,” he said, adding that improvement support should be returned to NCERCC.

Sheryl Burton, director of social inclusion at NCB, said: “We are firmly in favour of sector-led improvement. However, opportunities for improvement require sustained investment.”

John Kemmis, chief executive of advocacy charity Voice, commended the scrapping of the Tribal contract, but said funding for the residential care sector as a whole needs to be reviewed.

Meanwhile, figures rel­eased in response to a parliamentary question show that out of 1,879 children’s homes in England, 108 are currently rated inadequate by Ofsted. This figure has remained largely static over the past three years. John Goldup, director of social care at the inspectorate, told CYP Now that plans to revise the inspections framework for children’s homes would focus more rigorously on the experiences of children and young people.

“We need to make sure inspectors spend as much time as possible talking with children and young people,” he said. He pledged to support sector led-improvement, adding that Ofsted is in the process of producing a best practice report on outstanding children’s homes.

Roy Williamson, executive officer at the Independent Children’s Homes Association, hailed the return to sector-led improvement saying: “We will enthusiastically work with the minister to help lift the standards of the sector.”

    * 108 of the 11,879 children’s homes in England (5.8 per cent) were judged inadequate by Ofsted in the year ending 31 March 2010
    * This figure has remained largely static over the past three years with the 2008/09 figure standing at 7.3 per cent and 7.7 per cent in 2007/08
    * Ofsted is consulting on a revised framework for inspecting children’s homes
    * Proposals include each home having an interim annual inspection to determine what progress has been made on recommendations or requirements outlined in the annual inspection
    * The consultation closes on 31 October
See Ofsted’s consultation on a revised inspections framework for children’s homes