Education committee launches children’s homes investigation

Fiona Simpson
Monday, February 22, 2021

The education committee is set to carry out an investigation into children’s homes focussing on the outcomes of children who have spent time in them, it has been announced.

Robert Halfon: We will get to the bottom of why children living in children’s homes are facing such an uphill struggle. Picture: Parliament UK
Robert Halfon: We will get to the bottom of why children living in children’s homes are facing such an uphill struggle. Picture: Parliament UK

The investigation comes as part of an ongoing probe into the issues facing left behind groups including those with experience of care, left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, home education and prison education

According to latest figures from Ofsted, cited by the committee, just seven per cent of looked-after children achieve a good pass in GCSE English and Maths compared with 40 per cent of non-looked after children.

Around a quarter of both homeless people and those in prison are care-leavers while looked-after children are four times more likely to have a special educational need (SEN) than other children. 

Children aged 16-17 living in children’s homes are 15 times more likely to be criminalised than their peers of the same age, according to statistics from the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The committee’s inquiry is likely to examine areas including:

  • The data on academic outcomes and progression to destinations such as employment, apprenticeships and higher education for children and young people living in children’s homes.

  • What can be done to improve educational and longer-term outcomes for children and young people living in children’s homes.

  • The disproportionately high rates of criminalisation of young people in children’s homes.

  • What further support is needed to improve outcomes for children with special educational needs in children’s homes.

  • The quality of care, support and safeguarding in children’s homes.

  • The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the children’s residential care sector, and on the demand for children’s home places.

The full terms of reference for the inquiry will be published shortly along with a call for written evidence, the committee has said.

It will be welcoming written evidence from everyone with experience of working in children’s homes, academic and policy experts, and young people who live or who have lived in a children’s home.

Robert Halfon MP, chair of the education committee, said: “As part of the committee’s unerring focus on supporting disadvantaged groups, this inquiry will get to the bottom of why children and young people living in children’s homes are facing such an uphill struggle to get on in life.

“There is also worrying evidence of the consequences of a lack of oversight in some homes. The most basic of rights for a child must be to have somewhere safe to live, where they are not at risk of abuse or preyed on by gangs. We will be examining whether more needs to be done to protect young people in unregulated provision.

“Children coming into care will already have had a traumatic start to their lives. We therefore owe it to them to ensure that their homes are safe and secure and that they are given every helping hand to access the ladder of opportunity and succeed in education and beyond.”

The investigation was announced on Friday (19 February) when the Education Secretary announced an impending ban on the use of unregulated supported accommodation for children under 16.

Peter Sandiford, chief executive of the Independent Children’s Home Association, said: “The Independent Children’s Homes Association welcomes and supports such scrutiny of the residential child care sector together with the focus on the continued use of unregulated provision but I am left wondering ‘why now’? In a few days the long-awaited care review starts and surely Josh MacAlister’s task is to conduct just such an inquiry but, rather than concentrating on what is one small part of the public care system centering it on the whole system.

"That being said, the focus of the committee’s enquiry on what can be done to improve outcomes is welcomed. The system itself is in disarray. All too often children come into homes because they have been failed at every step of the ‘care journey’.

“Their poor outcomes are known to be attributable to adverse childhood experiences, late intervention, use of unregistered provision and frequent moves.  

“We know that homes have good outcomes when used earlier to help children step down into foster care. We know that innovative thinking such as ‘No Wrong Door’ contributes to better outcomes and we know that around the country, many care providers ease the burden on public services through the provision of education and therapeutic services.”

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