Criminal Care? · 22 Jan 2020
Ofsted Annual Report 2018/19
Ofsted’s Annual Report 2018/19 was published this week (21 January). The Report provides a yearly snapshot of the children’s homes sector. We’ve pulled out some of the key points from the report for our readers.
- At any one time, children’s homes are caring for around 6,500 children, so around eight per cent of the children who were in care during the course of the year (78,000).
- The number of children’s homes continues to rise, with a six per cent increase since August 2018.
- The increases are not spread evenly across the country. The North West, for example, saw a large increase, of 60 homes (11 per cent). The South East was the only region to see a decrease, of three per cent (nine homes).
Large children’s homes providers
- Large children’s homes providers (i.e. providers that own 10 or more homes) own 47 per cent of all private or voluntary run homes.
- Across the regions, large providers of children’s homes vary considerably in how many homes they own. Proportions are lower in London and the South East, and higher in the North West, East Midlands and West Midlands.
- At 31 August 2019, 18 per cent of children’s homes were judged Outstanding by Ofsted, 65 per cent Good, 15 per cent required improvement to be good and 3 per cent were judged Inadequate. Large providers have performed better than the smaller ones, with 82 per cent judged good or outstanding compared with 78 per cent for all other providers.
Out-of-area placements and distance from home
- The uneven distribution of children’s homes around England can mean that some children are placed in children’s homes far from their original home. In some circumstances, this can be wholly appropriate as part of the child’s care plan. For others, it is an area of concern.
- Around half of all children living in children’s homes are placed more than 20 miles from home. Around a quarter of all children living in children’s homes are placed more than 50 miles from home.
- Around 60 per cent of children were living outside their LA on 31 March 2018. These children lived on average 53 miles from their home compared with 10 miles for children living within their LA. Around nine per cent of children (570) were placed 100 or more miles from their original home. Seventy of these children were placed more than 200 miles away. This was more likely for children from London or the South West.
- Having consistent, suitably qualified staff and managers is an important part of effective social care provision. Staff can provide better support to the children they care for if they have the right qualification.
- Over half of children’s homes staff had achieved a required level 3 qualification (61 per cent). This was an increase of eight percentage points from 2017–18. A further 21 per cent of staff were undertaking a level 3 qualification. The percentage of managers with a level 5 diploma continued to increase, to 51 per cent in 2018–19.63 Managers are allowed up to three years to gain the level 5 diploma. This means that many start in post with level 4. Seventy-two per cent of managers had at least a level 4 diploma in 2018–19.
- An important factor in support for children is consistency of staff. Over the last year, 34 per cent of children’s homes have had new managers.
- Unregistered provision is a national issue.
- In 2018/19, Ofsted investigated more than 150 potentially unregistered children’s homes. Around 15 of these homes were not required to register, usually due to them being unregulated homes – that is, accommodation without care, usually for children over the age of 16. Most of the remaining homes (around 100) should have been registered.
The report was launched with a speech by Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman. In her speech, Ms Spielman highlighted some of Ofsted’s concerns about the residential children’s homes sector. She noted that “national supply is not matching the needs of children” and that “children’s homes are not in the right places” failing to reflect the “geographical profile of the care population”. This is partly, she said, due to a lack of “co-ordinating strategy to manage the supply of children’s home places at a national level”. As she said, it is not surprising that this results in a lack of homes in the expensive cities and regions, and an oversupply in areas where property is cheaper, which leads to local authorities having no choice but to send children far from home. This is a particular problem, she said, for teenagers with complex needs.
“It would be wrong to attribute all the weaknesses in the system to a lack of money alone. Better ways of working would also help improve the overall picture for children.” Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector, Ofsted
Ms Spielman went on to discuss the ownership of children’s homes. She stated that Ofsted’s analysis of children’s home ownership “showed that the level of private equity investment in the sector is growing”. It is creating new patterns of ownership, just as it is in nurseries. Although they have a higher ratio of good and outstanding homes compared to other owners, their ownership creates a need to “rethink the lines of accountability” and thought needs to be given to how they can be encouraged to open homes where they are needed. Ms Spielman concluded that “In the absence of a coherent national approach, we will continue to see poor placements often made out of necessity rather than incompetence. And that includes the placing of young teenagers in unregistered children’s homes.” She also commented on the low levels of training, support and pay for care home workers that, she said, reflected an undervalued workforce. There was, she said, a need to make sure that residential care roles remain attractive.
Whilst there are some positives in Ofsted’s report, such as the increases in the numbers of staff taking qualifications, overall the picture is very concerning. The sector continues to grow without any central government oversight and in a way that is damaging for children. Social workers are being forced to make placement decisions based on necessity rather than the best interests of the child. This is particularly the case for teenagers with complex needs, which may include exploitation by so-called ‘county lines’ criminals.
“Children who end up in care are more likely to struggle as adults, denied the love and stability most of us take for granted. We will prioritise stable, loving placements for those children.” (Conservative Manifesto)
We know that poor placement decisions and failings in support can contribute to criminalisation. As we said in our 2018 briefing, Hearts and heads: good practice in children’s homes, central government needs 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 welcome the commitment in the Conservative Manifesto to “review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need”. We hope that this review will recognise the need for a national strategy and oversight that provides children with the care they need and deserve.