Accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds to cope with leaner standards than children’s homes, as part of DfE plans

(credit: fizkes / Adobe Stock)

Currently unregulated housing for young people in care would face a set of leaner standards than children’s homes, as part of the Education Department’s advisory plans to regulate them, released this week.

The provision – which would concern people aged 16 and 17 – would be subject to four standards, against nine for children’s homes, under the proposals.

The four standards relate to leadership and management, protection, support and accommodation. While the first two are reflected in the children’s home standards, these also cover the quality and purpose of care, children’s opinions, wishes and feelings, education, fun and success, health and well-being, positive relationships and care planning. .

The differences reflect the fact that unregulated housing – currently referred to as ‘independent’ or ‘semi-independent’ but which would be referred to in the future as ‘supported housing’ – is designed to provide ‘support’ ” to young people to help them in their transition to independence. , rather than “care”.

The DfE’s proposals, first sketched in February, seek to regulate – including the Ofsted inspection – of this provision, to prevent the placement of young people in inappropriate environments, such as caravan parks, and to ban their placement. use by under 16s, while retaining their “independent” character.

However, they have faced a barrage of criticism from children’s charities and sector bodies, who say it would discriminate against 16 and 17 year olds – who make up the vast majority of people living. in unregulated housing – leaving them subject to inadequate arrangements. and allow councils to transfer children in care to cheaper services when they reach the age of 16. The children’s rights charity Article 39 has taken legal action against the plan, which is due to come into force in September.

“ Independent supply, the right option for some ”

In its consultation paper, the DfE said that while for most children in care, their need for “adequate, safe and secure housing” would be met by foster families or children’s homes, for some older children, placement in a semi-independent lifestyle would be the best option to help them develop their independence before leaving care.

He said such a provision was “not automatically the right choice for children aged 16 and 17” and that “where children of this age have needs that would be best met in a children’s home or foster care is where they should be placed ”. .

The proposed standards were designed to ensure “a high quality form of delivery in the care system focused on helping older children to develop their independence”, in the context of an increasing number of ‘older children in care.

He said that while boards are currently required to verify that independent services (such as apartments or beds) and semi-independent services (such as hostels or hostels) are suitable for young people before placing them there, ” the absence of national standards and independent regulation of this sector has led to inconsistencies in the quality of the offer ”.

The DfE said it expects the change to lead to a shift in the independent and semi-independent supply market, with some existing suppliers and others joining.

Difference between care and support

As any facility that provides “care and accommodation, wholly or primarily to children” must register as a children’s home under the Standards of Care Act 2000, a key objective of the new standards is to make a clear distinction between establishments providing “care” and those providing only “support”, the latter being classified as “supported accommodation” rather than as “children’s home”.

He said there was currently confusion over the distinction and proposed using indicators developed by Ofsted to determine which arrangement should be registered as a children’s home to determine the difference (some of which are given below).

Can young people leave the establishment
without the permission of the staff?
Accommodation supported Care – will likely require enrollment of children at home
Do young people have full control over their
Accommodation supported Care – will likely require enrollment of children at home
Do young people have control over what they
to wear and the resources to buy clothes?
Accommodation supported Care – will likely require enrollment of children at home
Are young people responsible for meeting all their
health needs
Accommodation supported Care – will likely require enrollment of children at home

Four standards instead of nine

In terms of the standards themselves, the standard of leadership and management is similar to the equivalent of the children’s homes regulation, requiring the supplier to ensure that there are enough staff, with the right people. skills and experience. However, although the children’s home standards require the provider to provide continuity of care, this is not part of the proposed standards for assisted living. Unlike children’s homes, these would require the provider to ensure that young people are aware of their rights and, if possible, encouraged to access them.

The standard of protection reflects the equivalent of the children’s home in several ways, including requiring staff to have the skills to identify and act in the event of risk or harm. However, it differs in other respects, for example, having no equivalent to the requirement that “the daily care of the home is organized and provided in such a way as to ensure the safety of every child and to protect every child. effectively against harm ”.

The proposed accommodation standard would require the provider to provide each youth with a lockable bedroom or self-contained space equipped to meet their needs, with space for personal effects, access to “basic necessities such as bedding, groceries, etc. personal hygiene and kitchen utensils ”and a“ comfortable space ”, whether private or shared.

And the proposed support standard would require the provider to give each young person a support plan, based on baseline information and consultation with them, and a formal plan to move them to a more independent life and enable them to take the lead. their support and “maintain appropriate and secure relationships with family and friends”.

Supplier-based parameters or inspections

In addition to asking for their opinion on the proposals to distinguish between care and support and standards, the consultation also asked respondents to give their opinion on whether Ofsted should register the provisions on an individual basis, as in children’s homes, supplier-wide or otherwise.

A context-based system would be stricter, with Ofsted carrying out full inspections of each establishment, with reactive control visits between them, supported by enforcement measures in the event of poor performance, including restriction of admissions in case of significant concerns. A vendor-based system would involve Ofsted reviewing the systems the organization has in place to meet national standards and inspecting a sample of parameters, with each parameter inspected much less frequently than in the parameter-based model.

In response to the consultation, the British Association of Social Workers in England reiterated its support for a ban on unregulated accommodation for all children in care.

But a spokesperson added: “We recognize that an immediate ban on unregulated nursing homes, despite the harms and risks associated with it, would result in a short-term lack of placements for children and youth who leave. health care facilities and could in turn cause further crises and trauma in their lives.

“As part of this consultation, we will call on the government to make significant, long-term investments in children and youth across the country. This requires support services for vulnerable children and those discharged from care requiring urgent resources, both during and beyond the pandemic. “

“ A low-cost healthcare system ”

However, article 39 gave a much more critical answer. Its director, Carolyne Willow, said that “the proposed worry-free standards are woefully inadequate compared to the existing quality standards for children’s homes.”

Accusing ministers of “running a low cost care system for very vulnerable children,” she added: Children are not taken care of just for a roof over their heads; they need care and care to help them recover from past abuse, neglect and trauma, as well as to help them do well in school and prepare for a good future life.

“Ministers have deliberately omitted care so that unregulated housing providers do not have to follow the quality standards of children’s homes. We recommended having a single set of quality standards, with possible modifications for homes that deal entirely or mainly with older children. “

In its response, the Independent Children’s Homes Association said the standards should recognize the unique needs of children “and allow the flexibility and protection required”. He added that many children should be able to stay in their children’s homes at the age of 16, while others would benefit from a transition to semi-independent services, all “subject to registration with standards of care. quality designed to ensure the protection of children and other needs. are met”.

The DfE has published separate consultations for local authorities and providers, and for children and young people, which will close on July 19, 2021.

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