The Department for Education published a review this month into the number and types of young people that are placed in independent or semi independent placements. They also published a consultation into the future of this provision and how it should be regulated. What does this all mean? What is this provision and why the flurry of central government activity?
Independent or semi independent supported accommodation (for the sake of brevity let’s call this SIA provision) serves young people, usually Looked After Children or those who are Care experienced when they need additional support to transition into adulthood. Let’s be clear, most young people are not ready to be independent at 16. How many children that haven’t been in the care system ‘boomerang ‘ back home a few times, well into their 20’s before they become truly independent? This is a privilege very rarely granted those in the care system. Whilst improvements have been made in supporting foster carers to keep young people beyond 18 this is still not the same as a private parent simply assuming that they will have done well if their progeny leave home before they are 30! And how do you move back into a children’s home when you are 21 and leaving university? You don’t is the simple answer.
With this in mind SIA provision should serve a very useful purpose to give young people more independence in a supportive framework, with committed, well trained staff to help them learn the essential practical and emotional skills to get into and sustain education, training or employment, to be good tenants and to find a positive and productive way in the world. Often, this is what happens. However, all too often this is not the case and the most vulnerable people in our society are left to be exploited and abused in housing that is not fit for habitation. How and why is this happening and what is Tristone Healthcare trying to do about this?
To understand this, one has to understand the regulatory frameworks for children’s services. Children’s homes (those that can look after younger children) and foster placements are regulated by Ofsted. SIA provision is not. The practical difference is enormous. If you run a children’s home there are a raft of Quality Standards that are legal requirements that must be met. Ofsted visit twice a year, unannounced, to inspect based on these standards. Ofsted must agree to register a children’s home before it can operate. They will interview the manager to approve them as having the right experience and qualifications to run the home. They will check the policies and procedures and the experience of the staff team. They will inspect the property and ensure that the area is suitable. There are none of these regulations, expectations or checks for SIA provision.
In reality, anybody with an empty property is free to open an SIA provision whether they have any kind of relevant experience, the right values, the right motivations or the right property. And all, currently, because a child has reached their 16th birthday!! Are they less vulnerable than the day before their birthday? Do they need less protection, care, nurture, encouragement and boundaries? Of course not. But because there is no regulation in place there are no safe checks and balances that come with a solid regulatory framework.
What has this meant for young people? The BBC have over the last months been highlighting some of the terrible situations young people have been in. They have been placed in dismal, damp dirty housing with under trained and under supported staff, and have been at the mercy of criminal gangs. They become more disadvantaged and disaffected rather than learning the skills they so desperately need. And the use of this provision has increased enormously.
In the last ten years the number of children looked after has grown year on year. There were over 78, 000 children looked after in 2019, a rise of 4% from the year before. At the same time over the last 9 years the use of SIA provision has increased over 80% with 6,180 young people living in such placements. This has focused both media and government attention on the situation and the huge vulnerabilities of this group.
So, given all this, why are Tristone Healthcare operating in this sector? Well, simply because we believe that whatever challenges children are faced with in early life, and however the world’s complexity presents a risk to people’s enjoyment of life in adulthood, everybody is entitled to lead healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives that positively contribute to the world around them. Everyone deserves a safe and caring environment in which to achieve that. We are more than ready for regulation. We welcome it and operate all our SIA provisions as if the sector was already regulated – we believe we have a moral obligation to do this and provide uncompromising standards on behalf of young adults.
We are highly experienced in the children’s sector with many years experience of services that are amazing and some not so much. This combined decades of experience has been brought together to design services that are outstanding from the culture and values, to the delivery of support. We are outstanding in how we listen to our staff and most importantly our young people. And this has led to all our services to have stellar reputations with local authorities, and with our young people and their families.
In the future the government will regulate SIA provision. It’s about time. We can’t, as a civilised society allow or most vulnerable people to receive second class support from second class providers. Our view is simple. If we wouldn’t let our own children live in our services then they are not good enough for other’s children.
Quite what regulation will look like, and who will have responsibility for it is subject to government consultation now. At Tristone Healthcare we are excited for the safer future that our young people will enjoy.