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Criminal Care? · 16 Jul 2018

Hearts and heads: good practice in children’s homes

Today we launch the third briefing in our programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care. ‘Hearts and Heads: good practice in children’s homes’ sets out what we describe as a ‘principled approach’ to caring for children in residential care which can help prevent criminalisation. The briefing draws on interviews and meetings with several hundred people, including owners and staff from private, voluntary and local authority sector homes and children and young people who are living, or who have recently lived, in residential care.

We don’t attempt to provide a definitive blueprint of what a good children’s home should be offering, we don’t advocate for specific interventions and we don’t talk in detail about behaviour management or restorative justice. Rather, we set out some basic principles of good practice which good homes and providers are already using to support, nurture and care for children in ways which are protective of factors which can lead to criminalisation.

We have grouped the principles we have identified into two categories: hearts and heads.

The ‘hearts’ principles consider the emotional needs of children and include:

  • a child-centred culture which is opposed to criminalisation
  • good parenting and the question “Would this be good enough for my child?
  • a homely environment
  • listening to children and treating them with dignity and respect

The ‘heads’ principles deal with the business side of running a home and include:

  • robust matching and managing of moves to provide stable placements
  • valuing, training and supporting staff
  • protocols to prevent unnecessary use of the police.

The briefing also addresses the subject of corporate responsibility and the lack of government regulation of ‘market’ development. Nearly three quarters of children’s homes are now run by private, for-profit companies and, as the numbers of local authority-run homes are declining, these private companies, particularly the larger ones, are stepping in to meet ‘market demand’.

Every child taken into the care of the state deserves to live in an outstanding home

Only 14 per cent of privately-owned homes were given an Overall effectiveness judgement of outstanding by Ofsted in the financial year 2016-17, compared to 25 per cent and 19 per cent respectively for local authority-run and voluntary-run homes. We believe that every child who has been taken into the care of the state because of abuse and trauma deserves to live in an outstanding home.

It is up to the owners of these companies to ensure that the homes under their control are run according to the principles we recommend and that there is a consistently high quality of care across all the homes under their control.

The report also highlights our concerns about the lack of control of systemic issues which are contributing to the criminalisation of children and to their exploitation by criminals, including county lines gangs. One Director of Children’s Services described the situation to us as ‘a Wild West market’. While Ofsted regulates standards of service provision, there is no national lead or direction on how the sector develops or operates as a whole and there is a worrying lack of oversight and transparency. We call on central government to take more interest in how perverse outcomes develop when the ‘market’ in residential care is not properly regulated and of other contributory causes to the criminalisation of children in the care of the state.

We will be exploring some of the issues covered in the report in more detail in future blogs. If you would like to receive e-mail notification of new posts, please click here. To read our previous briefings and learn more about the programme, click here.

Claire Sands


  • Jonathan Rigg says:

    Residential care is highly regulated , and rightly so , with most homes individually being inspected unannounced twice a year. My vast experience is that criminalisation of young people reduces dramatically within the correct setting and not what you are suggesting.

    To suggest anything less than an outstanding rating isn’t good enough and is misleading and shows a misunderstanding of the inspection process and of how difficult it is to gain an outstanding with severely challenging young people. A home rated as less than good is in effect a home that will not get any placements and generally faces closure so its not in private companies interest to run them as such. Quite the opposite , an outstanding home is much more likely to perform better financially.

    I believe a far more pressing issue is that of fostering services looking after similar young people only being inspected once every 3 years , and then only as an organisation. Far more importantly , and far more worrying the is the trend of Local Authorities , through desperation , having to place young people in completely unregulated leaving care services that now appear to be offering services that the regulated sector cannot and will not offer.

    To continually suggest young people in childrens homes are being criminalised is in my opinion a red herring.

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