Children’s home budget cuts ‘sow seeds of new abuse scandals’

Staff training budget – slashed to just 69p a head – could put already vulnerable children at risk, say care leaders

A fresh wave of scandals threatens children’s homes, care leaders are warning, after the government cut annual training funds for staff to just 69p a head.

Only £25,000 has been set aside for work in children’s homes in England out of an overall training budget of £113m for the children and young people’s workforce for the next 12 months.

The bulk of the budget has been set aside for training social workers who operate in the community, considered the priority since the Baby P affair. But some 12,000 children, including between 10% and 15% of those in care, are looked after in residential homes.

The Social Care Association (SCA), which promotes good practice in the sector, has written to the education secretary, Michael Gove, who is responsible for child welfare, warning that he risks a return to the scandals of abuse in children’s homes.

“It is a sector still recovering from a series of scandals going back to the 1970s and our concern is that this is letting that recovery slip and sowing the seeds of future scandals,” said Nick Johnson, the SCA chief executive.

Gove has authorised £113.4m of spending by the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) in 2011-12, of which just £25,000 has been earmarked for “completion of a test and trial of professional practice standards for residential care”.

A £6m training pot previously available for residential care has been exhausted. In addition, one of the first actions of the coalition government was to cancel a £300,000 contract for improving standards in children’s homes that Labour had awarded to the Tribal consultancy.

Although there are no exact figures for numbers of children or staff in residential homes, the SCA’s estimate of 36,000 workers equates to an individual share of the £25,000 amounting to 69p.

Johnson said there seemed to be an assumption that the sector, now dominated by private care providers, should fund its own training. But the state sent some of society’s most vulnerable children to private homes and could not absolve itself of responsibility for their treatment, he said.

“Scotland is funding a nine-year investment programme to support the workforce in its children’s homes,” said Johnson. “My message to Michael Gove is that if you don’t act on this, it will come back and bite you.”

Successive governments were forced to intervene in children’s homes in the 1980s and 1990s in response to revelations of endemic physical and sexual abuse in Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Islington in north London, and elsewhere.

Minimum standards for children’s home workers specify that they must undergo formal induction and hold, or work towards, a workforce diploma qualification. But many are paid only the minimum wage and turnover is high.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We know how important it is to have highly qualified staff in children’s homes who can support and care for often vulnerable children.

“The department is also working with key representatives from the sector to improve the quality of children’s homes. This includes working with the CWDC to train and develop the workforce.”