Why semi-independent settings need regulating

Children's care practitioner
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

One children's practitioner explains why they quit a job at an unregulated accommodation provider over safety and bad practice concerns - and why it highlights the need to raise standards in these settings.

When the government announced it wanted to reform unregulated semi-independent placements for children in care, I was really pleased, especially as they have said that children under 16 won’t be living in these units any more. However, now I’ve seen the proposals and know what happens in practice I am very worried. 

I was a child in care for many years and went on to become a support worker in a semi independence unit. I recently resigned because instead of being encouraged to provide good care for the young people I was told to provide minimal support and let the young people learn to do things for themselves. My experiences and observations have been anonymised to protect the young people. 

Soon after I started at the unit, I learned that those who challenged the management did not do well. Staff would be asked “what team are you on?” like we were playing some sort of game. But these are young people’s lives. In the time I was working there, many staff left, or were ‘encouraged’ to move on. 

Children who have been through the care system often have ongoing emotional difficulties, but at the same time they are also wonderful, bright, intelligent young people who need help to change. They get frustrated and angry when they don’t understand why they are not receiving the care and support they are entitled to. 

Independent advocacy was not encouraged. I have personal experience of how helpful this support can be. The manager always denied requests with the same answer: “We work for the social service and don’t want problems”. Young people become isolated when staff can’t challenge the managers and advocacy is denied. 

Social workers only visit occasionally and don’t see what happens day-to-day. I have seen false accusations made about young people. Staff hand written reports are typed up and changed. Managers make sure the social workers only see their typed version of events. Unfortunately, social workers are often inclined to believe the manager’s word over young people’s.  

I have seen how denying basic needs and rights impacts on young people. At the beginning of the lockdown, the staff were told that young people could not leave the premises at all. They were not allowed to go out for exercise or to buy their own shopping. When I  asked why, I was told “it is for their own good”. There were no risk assessments to determine who was vulnerable. This harsh lockdown only ended when one young person managed to get an advocate who challenged the decision.  

Verbal abuse was very common from some staff and managers. One young person who was worried about being infected by the virus asked about PPE. He was told “to stop taking the piss and that management doesn’t need to hear his bullshit”. 

During lockdown the staff had to use young people’s money to buy their weekly shopping. When one young person received his shopping he noticed that some of it was already or nearly out of date. He phoned the manager about this and the response he received was verbal abuse and bad language. I complained but was told it was unprofessional of me to allow the young person to speak with the manager. 

The lockdown made things worse but the lack of care and support was ongoing. I was very worried about one young person who was self-harming. I wrote an incident report and kept raising it with the manager but nothing was done. I am not even sure if the local authority was informed. Another young person who was 16 had hurt his foot and was in pain. I was told to give him the GP’s number and let him do the rest himself.

I worked in this unit for several months and there was no DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] check on me. Many other staff have also worked there without DBS.

I could provide numerous examples of poor practice and lack of compassion in this place. From my own experience, I know that all placements are not the same but any poor placement has an impact on a young person’s stability and confidence.  

It is good to know that the government now wants to regulate these placements. However, the fact that they will not have to provide care is a big mistake. Parents are not expected to stop providing care for their children when they are 16 so why should it be any different for children who have ‘corporate parents’? 

The same standards, regulations and Ofsted inspections are needed for all placements. It will be more expensive in the short term, but I know that good care and support can help these young people to go on to have good, independent lives and prevent them needing social care and criminal justice services in the future. 

*Editor's note: the author's name has been withheld to protect the identity of the young people mentioned. The author has reported the cases above to the relevant local authority to investigate

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