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Criminal Care? · 11 Dec 2018

A year in the children’s homes sector: Ofsted echoes our findings

Last week (4 December), Ofsted published its Annual Report for 2017/18. It was interesting to read the latest data and we were pleased to see the report echo some of the Howard League’s own findings.

You may recall that our ‘Hearts and Heads’ briefing on good practice in children’s homes talked about the need to instil some foundational elements in homes where children were being criminalised. The Ofsted report repeatedly emphasises this point and states that, “evidence from our inspections across all our remits is that the core of success for providers – what makes most difference for young people – is getting the basics right.” The same goes for local authorities: “Again, Local Authorities that were inadequate and have improved have done so by getting the basics right. None of this is rocket science.” 

The report outlines some core elements of the best homes Ofsted had inspected. Again these mirror many of the points we made in our ‘Hearts and Heads’ briefing. Ofsted describe the strengths of the very best homes as including:

  • stable staff teams made up of dedicated, experienced and often highly qualified staff and managers
  • strong partnership work with other professionals, community groups, parents and families to improve outcomes and provide integrated care
  • quality relationships between staff and the children; staff nurture and trust the children, are open and honest with them, show them warmth and respect them
  • a good range of quality experiences and activities that children can access
  • listening to the voice of the child and involving them in decisions, no matter what their ability to communicate is.

Ofsted also expresses concern about the level of staff qualifications in children’s homes:

“Staff qualification levels in children’s homes are far below where the government expected them to be in 2018. More than a third are not qualified to, or are working towards, the required level 3. Less than half of children’s homes registered managers held the required level 5 qualification.”

The number of children’s homes has continued to rise over the last year, with an increase of four per cent. The proportion of homes run by local authorities has continued to fall (from 26 per cent in 2012 to 18 per cent in 2018) although we are hearing of local authorities that are opening new homes in an effort to control costs and quality. The large private and voluntary owners (by which Ofsted means providers other than local authorities who own ten or more children’s homes) continue to open the greatest proportion of new homes each year.

What makes for a good home isn’t rocket science

The Ofsted report states, “The proportion of homes owned by large providers varies considerably across regions, from 51% to 9%. While there are many reasons for this variation, the price of suitable property may play a part.” This suggests that the large providers are more likely to buy property in areas with the lowest property prices. This has many implications including a dearth of provision in some areas which will be driving out-of-area placements and the opening of homes in more disadvantaged areas.

We mentioned in a previous blog that Ofsted were planning to publish a report about the largest children’s homes providers this autumn. The report has not been made available yet but a handful of Powerpoint slides containing some information have been posted online.

The slides state that the largest eleven providers own over 500 children’s homes, which amounts to just over 30 per cent of all private and voluntary run homes. The largest provider by far is Cambian Group Holdings Limited, which owns 156 homes; the next largest is the Keys Group with 82 homes.

The purpose of Ofsted’s analysis appears to be to ascertain whether the inspection outcomes for the largest providers are, on average, better or worse than those of the smaller providers. When the outcomes for the eleven largest providers are grouped together and compared to those of smaller providers it appears that outcomes are similar:

When you look more closely at the data, however, it is clear that the above analysis masks significant variability between the larger providers. Some organisations, such as Hexagon Care and Outcomes First are achieving significantly better results than the average. Others are doing worse than average including the largest provider, Cambian, with 20 per cent of its homes rated “Requires improvement to be good” (average for all homes – 15 per cent) and only 10 per cent of its homes rated “Outstanding” (average for all homes – 15 per cent).

The largest organisations should have the structures, money and processes in place to enable them to provide consistently high levels of care in all their homes. And there really is no excuse for these large and well-resourced companies to be running any homes rated as ‘Inadequate’. We hope Ofsted will use this data to work with those organisations that should be doing better.

Large providers have no excuse to run homes rated as ‘Inadequate’

On another note we were encouraged to see that Ofsted’s Annual Report highlights the criminal exploitation of children, including by county lines gangs. It states:

“Local partnerships need to understand the scale of risk of criminal exploitation to children in their area, based on effective systems of gathering and sharing information within and between areas, so that patterns of exploitation and criminal activity and the impact on children are understood. They should have a highly coordinated, multi-agency and whole-council approach, building on some of the lessons learnt from tackling child sexual exploitation, as well as sharing good practice.”

We agree they are right to highlight criminal exploitation which is why we will be doing our own piece of work on this next year.

Claire Sands


  • Jonathan says:

    You state “And there really is no excuse for these large and well-resourced companies to be running any homes rated as ‘Inadequate’” .

    Why do you use the term Inadequate when in fact the grading is Requires Improvement to be Good. It meets the standards ?

    Also of note Cambian in particular have a large number of contracted homes with local authorities. From experience , and due to the huge pressures imposed working with failing Local Authorities the gradings of these homes will inevitably be lower. It would be worth looking at this information if its available as Im personally aware of how difficult and unprofessional LAs are to work with when operating contracted beds.

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