An Industry Response To Gove’s Call For Transparency In The Care Of Looked After Children

childrens_care_home17:08 Friday 13th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: We start the programme with a question. Just what is going on inside our care homes, and are the children safe from harm? I ask the questions because of the extraordinary accusation from the man in charge of the nation’s education that he faced a wall of silence when he tried to get information about care homes. The Education Secretary Michael Gove has attacked official regulations, which he says prevent the authorities from stepping in to protect vulnerable children in care homes from abuse. Mr Gove says data protection laws have left the police and the government departments unable to help children at risk, exposing them to the threat of paedophile gangs. Here’s the BBC’s Michael Buchanan. (TAPE)
MICHAEL BUCHANAN: Michael Gove will publish comprehensive data on the location, ownership and quality of England’s seventeen hundred children’s care homes. The figures seen by the Daily Telegraph show that the majority of homes are in high crime areas, and that nearly 30% of them fail to meet the Government’s minimum quality standard. Writing in the paper, Mr Gove also says that almost half of children are sent to homes outside their local area. He’s vowed to bring transparency and accountability to the system, and put an end to what he calls an out of sight, out of mind culture. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Well the Independent Children’s Care Homes Association represents almost 80% of homes in this country. It’s Chief Executive is Jonathan Stanley, who’s based here in Cambridgeshire. I put Mr Gove’s concerns to him earlier.
JONATHAN STANLEY: I think we agree that we should all be united and have the one aim, to have a right placement for the right child at the right time at the right cost. And to be able to do that, we’re going to need some strategy. So I think Michael Gove would agree with that, but we have yet to actually read that from the Department for Education. And we would want to see that. Where we disagree is that when he says that we don’t know where the children’s homes are placed. We do, and from April Ofsted shared all of their information with the police, the local authorities and with the Department.
CHRIS MANN: He says he believes that the current situation could have hindered the police and helped individuals and groups seeking to harm children. Do you agree with that? Because it’s a very serious allegation.
JONATHAN STANLEY: It’s a serious allegation. In the past it may well have been the case that the police didn’t know where the children’s homes are. But again, from April that isn’t the case. What we need to ensure the safety of all children in children’s homes is very clear understanding of the police and children’s homes. Across the country the police and children’s homes have different understandings. We need to know when there is someone outside, what the children’s home has to do, and what the police will do.
CHRIS MANN: It’s extraordinary that we’ve got the Education Secretary blowing the whistle on a situation, if you like. He says that Ofted was not allowed to pass information to the police, because of data protection rules, and what he calls other bewildering regulations. In your view, is that correct?
JONATHAN STANLEY: They’ve been swept aside. And from April all of that information has been available to the Department for Education, to the police, to all the local authorities.
CHRIS MANN: But in the past he’s right? That was the case?
JONATHAN STANLEY: In the past there was a .. information was held much more closely.
CHRIS MANN: He said it’s indefensible that almost half of children in homes were placed outside their local authority area, and more than a third over twenty miles away. Your organisation represents 78% of care homes. Do you accept that charge?
JONATHAN STANLEY: We don’t. And we don’t accept it as a charge either. We think that it has to be much more sophistication than simplification on this. Simply, we cannot have all the children placed locally. We don’t know how many children need to be placed locally, but if we’re to meet the very specialist needs of children in children’s homes, then we’re going to have to place them locally, regionally and nationally.
CHRIS MANN: He says that one in three homes have fallen below the Government’s minimum standards. True or false?
JONATHAN STANLEY: What we know from the last Ofsted outcomes that 15% of homes are outstanding, 57% are good, 24% are adequate, and 4% are inadequate. Those are the Government figures.
CHRIS MANN: Are you happy with that?
JONATHAN STANLEY: Not happy that there are homes which are inadequate ever. The issue around the adequate and the inadequate is of assuring that those homes have support to improve rapidly.
CHRIS MANN: This is young people’s lives we’re talking about.
CHRIS MANN: And you can’t waste time with stuff like this.
CHRIS MANN: So how has this been allowed to linger? How has this problem been allowed to be there? He talks about an out of sight, out of mind culture developing. That seems to tally with the evidence, doesn’t it?
JONATHAN STANLEY: I think that he’s talking particularly and pointed a finger at local authorities there, where yes, we do have to place some children at distance, maybe to be able to access some sort of specialist care. And there is a need for local authorities to be much more active in the support of those children who are placed maybe at distance away from their home. That’s true.
CHRIS MANN: So Government has spoken out in the form of the Education Secretary. What does Government have to do now to fix this Jonathan?
JONATHAN STANLEY: It’s good that the Government are now speaking out, because providers have been speaking out for the past ten years on this. So it’s good that the Government are finally catching up with the providers. What they have to do is provide a strategy. The current reforms which the Government are putting in place, they’re minor tweaks. They’re helpful. But we need a strategy. It needs to be comprehensive. We need to know the needs of the children, and then we can plan what children’s homes will be where to meet what needs. They need to take the lead on this.
CHRIS MANN: And do you share his fears that people have had the opportunity to prey on young children, as a result of the system failing them?
JONATHAN STANLEY: I think that we have to understand CSE, child sexual exploitation, in much greater detail. There is undoubtedly the case that some children in children’s homes have been involved. Equally we have yet to really fully accept as a country just the extent of child sexual exploitation which is happening across the country. We work closely with the Office for the Children’s Commissioner, and where she says we must suspend our disbelief, we agree with her. This is an urgent matter.
CHRIS MANN: It’s not acceptable that a single child is abused .
CHRIS MANN: What’s the situation right now do you think?
JONATHAN STANLEY: We know the situation in children’s homes, because children’s homes are under a responsibility to notify both Ofsted and all the other partners whenever a child is involved in it. We don’t know necessarily the extent of it within other care placements, and we don’t know necessarily within birth families. We have to get over the stigma in this country of being able to talk about child sexual exploitation, and see it as a matter of safety, rather than a matter of shame.
CHRIS MANN: And the Government needs to act quickly.
JONATHAN STANLEY: Absolutely. We are really well supporting of that.
CHRIS MANN: Jonathan Stanley Chief Executive of the Independent Children’s Care Homes Association. Thank you for joining me.