A frank discussion with Phil Killen about the state of the children's care sector within the UK.

Updated: Oct 13

by Phil Killen, Head of Services - Children's Services, Safe As Houses

Since embarking on a career within the health and social care sector in 1995, I have experienced marked changes in both children's and adult supported living services.

I began my career in the children’s residential sector with an organisation that pioneered 1-1 support for adolescents who had experienced severe early years childhood trauma and abuse.

Children’s care twenty years ago

Despite the use of transactional analysis and therapeutic approaches, it became apparent that the sector needed fundamental and immediate intervention to deliver the desired level of quality care. During the early stages of my career, the health and social care industry was still very much wide-open for inappropriate use of physical restraints and had a lack of regulatory requirements for evidencing positive outcomes.

Appropriate accommodation and environments were certainly not at the forefront of care providers’ agendas and the sector seemed to be oversaturated with cheap methods of service provision, whereby providers focused more on profitability than providing quality.

With the quality of care not being effectively measured across the UK, a series of severe case reviews across the country came to light, sadly resulting in findings of extensive incidents of abuse in institutionalised settings.

Although undoubtedly, the sector has undergone significant improvements, there is still an abundance of providers, operating across substandard and unsustainable properties - particularly in the unregulated care leavers sector.

Children’s care today

In recent years, the Inspection Outcomes from Local Authorities have shown three-quarters of the children’s social care services have been reviewed under regulations were judged as good or better last year, which is obviously fantastic news.

That said, Yvette Stanleys who is Ofsted National Director for Social Care reported, “good practice is characterised by strong partnership working, effective leadership and specialist training for staff. Lessons learned need to be shared across multi-agency partnerships.” The sector’s biggest challenge is sufficiency, capability and quality of accommodation.

It will be no surprise to many of you that there are simply not enough children’s homes providing the right services in the right places, with the right properties.

Bringing it right back to basics, at Safe As Houses, we conduct extensive targeted research, such as demand-led requests and information from Local Authority Commissioners, Care Providers and updates on Governments statistics. This allows us to begin to meet the demand, but it is difficult to get a handle on just how much demand there is due to conflicting figures and statistics.

When a children’s home is found to be inadequate, it is often because of workforce issues and predominantly a lack of staff capacity who aren’t meeting children’s needs. However, it must be stated that unfit-for-purpose accommodation is also a major contributory factor.

Unfortunately, the residential workforce often tends to be low paid, undervalued and, in some cases even unqualified. My personal concerns call for more national oversight and strategic leadership to solve this overarching problem, but I’m mindful that this is not something that can be solved by one local authority or charity alone.

In joining Safe As Houses, I am currently liaising with several providers about their housing needs, and am in discussion with the private and public sectors regarding the strategy for 16+ care leavers.

For a very long time, this sector has been exposed to and abused by poor quality care providers that offer sub-standard accommodation for young people in care, including asylum-seeking children.

Profiteering housing associations that work in collaboration with unregulated providers are not reaching the outcomes that these young people deserve to be achieving. On the plus side, however, there are incoming changes in legislation and regulations for care leavers to identify and remove any financial predators.

The concerns care leavers are faced with

The Shared Accommodation Rate of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) reduces the amount of Housing Benefit or Housing Costs Element of Universal Credit a single person under the age of 35 can claim for private rented property. This was extended in January 2012 from those aged 25 and under.

There are a few exceptions to this rule in both Housing Benefit and Universal Credit claims, including claimants under the age of 22, who were formerly in social services care.

Care leavers up until the age of 22 will receive the one-bedroom self-contained rate 1.

However, when care leavers reach the age of 22, they will fall within the definition of single claimants aged under 35 and will then be subject to the shared room rate 2.

There are further exceptions to this rule, that may benefit care leavers who reach the age of 22. These being: