Councils told to stop housing children miles from home
- Published on Friday, 03 January 2014 09:20
- Written by Daniel Mason
New rules making residential care safer and putting an end to unnecessary out-of-area placements for vulnerable children will come into force this month.
The changes are announced today in the government's response to the consultation on residential care reform and will result in much stricter scrutiny of councils' decisions about where children are placed.
Announcing the changes, children and families minister Edward Timpson said: "It's totally unacceptable for local authorities to routinely place children miles away from their homes for no good reason. Far too often an 'out of sight, out of mind' culture prevails, and I'm determined to tackle it.
"In future, only senior council officials in charge of children's services will be able to place children out of area and only when they judge it to be the right decision for a child to be moved away from their home area. There will be one individual in each local authority who is directly accountable for these decisions.
"I'm also removing the secrecy around residential care by putting more information in the public domain than ever before on the location and quality of homes and working with Ofsted to improve inspection. There is still more work to be done, and I expect councils and care homes to rise to the challenge."
The change to the regulations will come into force at the end of January and is one part of a wider package of reforms. We are also:
- introducing rules so homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area
- changing the regulations so new homes only open in safe areas, run by competent providers and ensuring homes already open in less safe areas evidence that they can keep children safe, or face closure
- improving the quality of care by requiring staff and managers in homes to be suitably qualified within a strict time frame
- working with Ofsted to strengthen their inspection and intervention powers so 'good' is the only acceptable standard, and unsafe homes close unless they can evidence swift improvement
- putting much greater information on the quality and location of children's homes into the public domain - this autumn we published an extended data pack to improve accountability and drive improvements by sharing best practice
We will shortly issue new guidance to help providers of new homes and managers of existing ones to carry out assessments on the suitability of their home's location. Revised statutory guidance will also be issued to local authorities on their responsibilities around children missing from care.
The implementation of residential care reforms builds on the significant action the government took in 2013 to improve the quality of care and outcomes for all looked-after children and young people leaving care, including:
- introducing the pupil premium plus for children in care from day one of their placement - £1,900 extra to support their education
- placing a duty on every council to have a 'virtual school head' through the Children and Families Bill to champion the education of children in care and act as their overarching head
- allowing all children in care to stay with their foster families after they turn 18, following a £40 million funding boost and placing a new legal duty on councils to provide support
- introducing the Junior Independent Savings Account for all care leavers, with more than 40,000 accounts now open with a £200 contribution from government
- publishing the cross-government care leaver strategy, which sets out in one place the steps government is taking - from housing to health services, from the justice system to educational institutions - to support care leavers to live independently once they have left their placement
Source: Department for Education