Open letter to children’s home staff

Dear Children’s Homes Staff,

My name is Josh MacAlister and 14 months ago the government asked me to lead an independent review of children’s social care. Last week I published the final report which includes a clear set of recommendations, alongside a plan and costings, that I am asking the government, public services and businesses to support and implement.

Children’s home staff can play a crucial role in looking after and helping some of our most vulnerable children overcome adversity. Over the course of the review I have visited some great homes and spoken to children and young people who had meaningful and caring relationships with children’s homes staff which made a real difference to their lives. 

At the moment the valuable work of children’s homes staff is not sufficiently recognised and we know there is appetite for clear professional standards and more training. This lack of recognition contributes to a high turnover and difficulty filling vacancies in children’s homes. Children have told us that this causes disruption to their lives and to relationships with adults who should be providing them with love and care. 

We are recommending a funded leadership programme to support new children’s homes managers. Those who enrol would benefit from high-quality learning and development and receive a bursary to support their transition to management. This will provide an important pathway to fill vacancies and attract people from a broad range of relevant professions. It will also provide a foundation for high quality leadership in the sector making a real impact on those who work in children’s homes and the children they care for. 

I have heard how important it is that the skills and care provided by children’s home staff is recognised and valued through professional registration with clear standards. I think that professional registration for those working in children’s homes should be a requirement. This would recognise the special knowledge and skill needed to provide support to children in care, ensure children are supported and give the public confidence. I recommend that registration with Social Work England should start with children’s homes managers and then be extended, over time, to all those working in children’s homes.  

I also know that there are vacancies in the wider children’s homes workforce. I am therefore recommending that the apprenticeship routes into children’s homes are refreshed in line with new professional standards that will be required for professional registration. This will offer new children’s homes workers a supported route which gives them the right knowledge and skills to care for some of our most vulnerable children. 

There is a lack of high-quality children’s homes in the right places that meet the needs of children. Many children’s homes companies are also making excessive levels of profit which should instead be invested in improving the quality of homes and developing a highly skilled workforce. I am recommending an ambitious set of new national care standards for all types of homes for children in care (guaranteeing care for all children) and Regional Care Cooperatives where local authorities would work together to commission and run homes for children. This will raise the standards, sufficiency and stability of the sector – all of which is crucial to letting you focus on giving children the best care possible. These changes are needed so that our care system is able to build lifelong loving relationships around children in care. 

It is also important that transitions for young people leaving residential care are improved. Despite the relatively small cohort of young people currently living in ‘Staying Close’ arrangements, the early outcomes should give enough confidence to local authorities and policy makers to expand its use nationally, and so that young people can access it for longer. That’s why we recommend ‘Staying Close’ should be a legal entitlement and extended to age 23 with an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’ expectation.

Finally, the review makes wider recommendations for children in care. As part of this, I am recommending that every child who lives in a children’s home speaks with an advocate at least every month in the place of meetings with Regulation 44 Visitors. The current model lacks independence and this new approach would allow advocates who have a strong relationship with the child to form a fuller view of the suitability of the home and care. 

I want to thank the many children’s home staff, children in care and care experienced people who spoke to me throughout the last 14 months. I am very grateful for your time and honesty, and I hope that you can see your experiences and views have been heard and are reflected in what I have recommended.

You can read the final report on our website here alongside supporting documents which include more information on the recommendations, a children and young people’s version of the report and a children’s rights impact statement.

Josh MacAlister

Chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care 

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