Change the law on 'children's home' definition, urges ICHA

David Harris
Thursday, July 25, 2019

The term "children's home" should be legally protected and used only to describe regulated settings, a sector body has said in response to negative media reports.

The government says greater transparency will help to improve the quality of residential care. Image: Alex Deverill
The government says greater transparency will help to improve the quality of residential care. Image: Alex Deverill

The new definition should be produced by the Department for Education to "allow a better understanding of the issues and provide a secure basis for policy and practice", the Independent Children's Home Association (ICHA) claimed.

The call follows news reports about teenagers who have been placed in unsafe and unregulated settings by local authorities.

Children's minister Nadhim Zahawi recently referred to children's homes in an interview with BBC Newsnight, while talking about unregulated settings, which include post-16 semi-supported and supported accommodation.

He said he was looking into the options for regulation and added that he has written to all directors of children's services to raise concerns over the issue.

Regulator Ofsted uses the DfE definition of which settings need to be registered, as set down by the Care Standards Act 2000.

The ICHA claims the DfE definition should go further.

It points out that 97 per cent of regulated settings meet the required standards and 80 per cent of are rated "good" or "outstanding".

The ICHA said in a statement: "Regulated children's homes providers are concerned that the data or experience in recent reports and stories in the media, which have raised concerns regarding young people going missing from care, criminalisation and police call-outs, are being generated by settings that are not regulated children's homes.

"The data being collected by government, local government and agencies uses the current ‘children's homes' definition. 

"This is resulting in an undifferentiated dataset that cannot be distinguished to identify those issues relating to the unrelated different settings. 

"This is leading to a situation where reports and stories raise matters relating to ‘children's homes' but, in fact, are not.

"By continuing to use a single term, children's homes, politicians and the public may not distinguish the difference in the quality of care.

"Accommodation that is not registered as a children's home with Ofsted needs, by law, to be prevented from using the title.

"The use of the term ‘children's home' needs to be a protected title, only for regulated children's homes."

The ICHA adds that it will be asking the authors of reports on the sector to verify that their data conforms to any new definition of a children's home.

The DfE declined to comment.

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