Safeguarding our looked after children

The Berry Blog

A key responsibility for all councillors is the welfare of children in our care, writes Councillor Ralph Berry. It is a role that falls to all elected members who are viewed as independent for this purpose. With the lessons of abuse in Rochdale and the role that poorly regulated private care homes played there in mind, members with care homes in their wards need to be taking an interest in this subject.

In Bradford, the Corporate Parenting Committee leads on responsibility for eight directly provided children’s homes. As lead member for children at the council, I am a parent of 900 children.

The provision that allows independent visitors into children’s homes to check on the services being delivered in the council’s name falls under Regulation 33. This allows us to visit, discuss and learn about the work of the staff and the young people in our care. Elected members need to be trained and supported for undertaking this important safeguarding task. It is not about going on your own though, visits need a bit of planning and thought and staff need to be aware. Working with the Corporate Parenting Committee a rota is compiled so that all homes are visited regularly. We become the eyes and ears of the full council but also need to remember that we are not Ofsted.

The Regulation also addresses an issue of concern to local members whose ability to influence locations of mainly privately provided children’s homes has been limited. The Regulation states: “The registered person shall make sure that the premises are appropriately and suitably located, so that the children are effectively safeguarded and are able to access all the services to meet the needs of the child (as identified in the child’s care or placement plan).” There has to be a review every year, which means discussions have to be held with the council and other agencies.

Visit to local home
I recently visited one of our children’s homes where I met the staff and was shown round by a couple of enthusiastic residents. They had plenty to say about things like activities, of which apparently there were not enough, and the impact of new polices on allowances. In addition, I heard a lot about issues with school liaison and attendance. It’s not plain sailing at all and there is no way of avoiding the reality that, at times, our staff have a very challenging job. This reinforces the feedback I get from our Looked After Children’s Council, many of whose members have lived in one or more of our children’s homes.

Bradford has a very strong commitment to direct and accountable local residential home provision and it has been a cross-party commitment for some years.  In 2005-6, Bradford made a major investment in new purpose built children’s homes. All are currently rated good or outstanding by Ofsted and contribute to our ability to keep a high number of young people placed near to home and so able to maintain their kinship networks.

I believe that a directly provided, quality residential service is a key part of effectively meeting the needs of vulnerable young people. On my latest visit, I received positive feedback from residents about the care and support they receive especially from those who have reached their teenage years and experienced a number of serious placement and family problems in the past. Looked after children have a lot to say about how they can be supported and it is vital that elected members listen to their concerns and use that information to help shape policy. Similarly, staff that are working in the children’s homes are keen to discuss their work and, I discovered, will give pretty direct feedback on policy issues many of which are the result of decisions made by elected members. This directness is important as we face tough budgetary decisions along with growing pressure on Children’s Services.

Councillors decisions key
I left the home with a list of questions to follow up including the growing role of education targets as they affect the placement changes. I was impressed to hear about the high quality outreach work from a local high school to ‘hold’ on to a resident who was struggling with a number of issues and not ‘passing the buck.’ I have fed this back as positive news is rare.

The new regulations now require that the registered person in charge of the home needs to review the appropriateness and suitability of the location of the home at least once a year. The review process should involve consulting and taking into account the views of appropriate local bodies or services. Oddly, young people’s views are not mentioned.

Councillors make key budget and policy decisions that affect staff and the day-to-day arrangements of all our looked after children. From allowances to leisure activities and the range of support services for our young people in the homes, it is important that we get to hear first-hand how those decisions are working out. If needs be we have to be prepared to change them. I have done so a number of times.

Useful links
Role of Social Care Quality Standards Manager

Children's Homes Regulations Amendments 2014

Councillor Ralph Berry is the Lead for Children and Young People's Services, Bradford Metropolitan District Council and is a guest blogger
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