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Howard League blog · 4 Jul 2016

Visiting children’s homes

I recently visited four residential children’s homes in a city in the Midlands. I am obviously being cautious and not identifying either the place, the company running the homes, and, most importantly, the children.

I was invited to visit the homes and was therefore expecting to see good practice, which I did. The homes each had only two or three children and were in pleasant residential areas. The houses were well furnished and provided a caring and decent environment for some extremely vulnerable and damaged children.

Young people who had had the most appalling experiences imaginable were being given a chance to progress into adulthood with hope and a future of employment and stable relationships. They were being supported and loved.

When I talked to the young people they made it clear that other residential homes they had lived in had been quite different. One young girl told me she had been physically restrained by staff repeatedly in previous homes, often hurting her quite badly. Another had been moved around the country from home to home, not settling or being cared for. A young boy told me he had been sworn at by senior staff and that he felt staff had no interest in him.

There is clearly variable practice out there. The Howard League research published on 30 March found 1,700 homes for looked after children, mostly run by private companies. The police have told us that some companies call them out repeatedly to deal with minor incidents and then refuse to collect children from the police station promptly.

The children I met last week had experienced the most shocking abuse, violence, sexual exploitation and neglect in their short lives. As a result they were challenging to care for, but they deserved the very best of everything. Some homes are delivering this, some are not.

One child spoke to me, unprompted and out of the hearing of the staff. He said, the staff were being really nice to me, and, they would carry on behaving like that when I had gone. I have seen staff putting on a show for visitors in institutions around the world, and this time, I believed him. If only all the homes were like that.


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