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Hundreds Of Children's Homes Deemed Substandard By Ofsted

(Alamy)

5 min read

More than one in six children’s homes has been identified by regulators as having serious flaws in the care they offer, according to analysis by PoliticsHome.

Of the publicly available Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) reports for 3,314 children’s homes, PoliticsHome found 501 cases had concluded children’s homes in England were deemed to be “inadequate” or “in need of improvement”. 323 homes hadn’t been inspected.

Failures identified by inspectors included staff unjustly using physical restraints on children, locking children in bedrooms and refusing them food when they ask for it. Some providers were found to have failed to carry out adequate DBS background checks on staff working with vulnerable children.

The NSPCC, the UK’s largest children’s charity called the findings “shocking”, while former government Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield told PoliticsHome the system was “broken” and increasingly filled with private providers that were using the system for "a quick and easy return”.

Ofsted declined to comment on the findings but shared further internal data that showed that the overall number of ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’ children’s homes was as high as 588 – or one in five of all homes. 

Children’s homes in England have historically been run by local authorities, offering secure homes to vulnerable children. But cuts to council funding for preventative care and other youth services has placed the system under pressure. A report published in November 2022 by the charity Action for Children found that children’s services are now £344 million worse off than they were in 2010.

Local authorities (LAs) have increasingly relied on contracting private children’s home providers to meet the need for places. According to Ofsted, 85 per cent of children’s homes are run by for-profit companies – since 2021, the number of private-sector homes has increased by 21 per cent. Almost half (45 per cent) of those are now run by chains that run ten or more separate children’s homes, many of which are owned by private equity firms. 

PoliticsHome’s analysis found that 399 of the homes identified by Ofsted as ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’ were run by private providers. A further 81 of the substandard homes identified by Ofsted were run by local authorities, and 21 were run by charities or social enterprises.

At one local authority home, Ofsted identified that staff, including duty managers, had subjected children to “the inappropriate use of physical restraint and single separation” – the term for isolating and locking children in rooms, usually their bedroom – when the “legal criteria” for doing both had not been met.

Inspectors identified a large number of both private and local authority homes were in severe states of disrepair. A report for one privately-run home described a property in a “poor condition and unclean” with dirty carpets and walls, stained mattresses and bedding, and a child’s toothpaste tube that was covered in mould. 

Another report described a LA-run home in “unacceptable and hazardous” conditions including children not being provided with bedding, poor quality mattresses, broken furniture throughout the house and overflowing un-emptied rubbish bins. 

PoliticsHome identified multiple privately-run homes that had such long-term unsolved problems that they were operating with prolonged Ofsted-imposed limits on the number of children they were allowed to care for. Others were so poorly staffed they were forced to move children out of homes, leaving councils to find them new places.

"The children's home market is broken. The system is failing many young people, while at the same time costing local authorities and taxpayers eye-watering amounts of money,” said Longfield, who now serves as Chair of the Commission on Young Lives.  

"Too many private providers, often financed by private equity firms who can see a quick and easy return, are stacking up huge profits while running homes that don't offer the secure, local, therapeutic, responsive care that vulnerable children need.  

"The Government's own 2022 independent review into children's social care warned that kicking these problems into the long grass is no longer sustainable. Ministers have a blueprint for improvement, and they need to take a long-term view and invest the sums recommended by the Independent Review so that every child in care receives the support they deserve.” 

The government’s Independent Review Of Children’s Social Care last year called for a “reset” in the provision of care warning the current system was “increasingly skewed to crisis intervention, with outcomes for children that continue to be unacceptably poor and costs that continue to rise”. 

“All children in care deserve to be supported by compassionate and professional staff members who can help them navigate what can be a highly tumultuous time in their lives. However, as these shocking failures reveal, that is simply not the case for many children living in England,” Abigail Gill, Associate Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the NSPCC, said.   

Our analysis shows that the children’s social care system is spiralling out of control, relying on costly late-stage intervention which results in more children being in care.  

"For things to improve, we need all Government departments, local authorities and providers to share information effectively and work together to deliver the systematic change that will transform the treatment of vulnerable children in care. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said the government’s new children’s care strategy would "strengthen multi-agency support to ensure experts intervene swiftly to protect children at risk of harm” and that the government was ending the use of unregulated provision (a stepping stone for those leaving care) for 16 and 17 year olds this year. 

They added that local councils were "responsible for providing safe, appropriate homes for children, including those who may need secure placements, and are held to account for the quality of care they provide”, but that the government was “investing more than £259m in the next three years to increase the number of children’s homes places”. 

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