A ban on unregulated accommodation for under 16s is a welcome move, but what’s next?

Last month, the DfE announced that it was going to ban placing vulnerable children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation. Following months of consultation – a process which we wholeheartedly participated in – the ban will come into force in September.

As part of a series of reforms to drive up standards in children’s social care, children in care under 16 will no longer be allowed to be accommodated in unregulated independent or semi-independent placements, helping to ensure the most vulnerable are cared for in settings that best meet their needs.

There are many reasons why professionalising the sector will bring a multitude of positive outcomes for social care. Whether that’s by ensuring the highest quality provision for each and every child and young person, or by encouraging a value-based proposition within all settings. Many of the headlines that have been dominating the news in recent months have unsurprisingly shone a light on those that are getting it wrong – for example, the seven out of 80,000 providers that are delivering insufficient provision from a barge. Within any sector, within any organisation, there is going to be a certain amount of bad practice. However, it’s only by focusing on those providers that are already working tirelessly to achieve the DfE’s aims that we can ever gain the momentum needed to achieve tangible change in the sector.

There is no doubt that the introduction of a ban is long overdue. The benefits to everyone are significant – not least in ensuring that children do not fall through the net and are not placed with poor-quality providers.

Yet with any change, there are challenges and the task ahead is no exception. Despite a pledge by the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to support local authorities in creating more places in children’s homes, backed by additional investment, building on the £24 million announced at the Spending Review, there’s no doubt that local authorities face considerable pressures ahead. The difficulty of finding suitable placements for young people on either a planned or non-planned basis is nothing new. The problem is this reform will undoubtedly remove a large number of placements from the market. Whilst it’s right that poor quality providers need to be stopped from operating, local authorities will find it all the more difficult to meet their sufficiency duties.

It’s reassuring to hear that the Government will be moving forward with plans for legislating at the earliest opportunity to give Ofsted new powers to take enforcement action against illegal unregistered providers, who should be registered as children’s homes but are operating without the correct registration in place. In our view, Ofsted has a vital role to play in managing a quality assurance framework – something that 70% of consultation respondents called for. Local authorities simply don’t have the sufficient expertise or bandwidth to operate this successfully – they are not regulators. Ofsted has a strong track record and should be given the opportunity to fulfil this function successfully. However, the industry must be part of that process. We need transparency and consultation on what that framework will look like, to enable us to properly explore the part that providers have to play in delivering value-driven principles in a regulated environment – the need for quality standards in unregulated provision is very clear.

We hang our hat on value-driven principles – it’s what drives each and every business within the Tristone community. Whether that’s focusing on greater quality outcomes, upskilling staff, providing excellent accommodation, or taking a robust and unique approach to safeguarding, we believe a value-based approach is central to social care. We run all of our businesses as if they were regulated. At the end of the day, it all boils down to what is in the best interest of children. It’s essential to understand the voice of young people under our care. Providers need to have a thorough understanding of the outcomes they’re trying to achieve – whether that’s making young people job-ready, or feeling more empowered – and ensuring those services are meeting the needs of individuals and properly supporting their transition into adulthood. If we’re not enhancing their lives, if they’re not engaged in training, or education, or employment, then the services are not having the desired effect. Whatever measure, whatever reform, children and young people must be placed front and centre.