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Some children with complex needs waiting years for a stable home

Most local authorities struggle to find homes for children with complex needs, with children sometimes waiting years for a suitable placement.

24/01/24

Some children with complex needs waiting years for a stable home

More than 9 out of 10 local authorities frequently struggle to find homes for children with complex needs, according to a new report from Ofsted.

The report’s findings follow a national survey conducted by the inspectorate of local authorities and children’s home providers across England about the extent of the difficulties local authorities have when finding homes for children with these needs, the reasons behind them, and the barriers homes face in accepting children.

The report found that children often wait months – or in the worst cases, years – for a stable home, and some local authorities are resorting to placements they do not want to use, such as unregistered placements. Therapeutic and secure homes are often the preferred option for children with complex needs, however a lack of these homes is said to be contributing to the problem.

Increasingly, children who are seen as a risk to themselves or others are deprived of their liberty. Sometimes, these children are placed in unregistered homes because no registered alternatives are available. The lack of sufficient and suitable places in secure children’s homes and appropriate mental health provisions is contributing to this.The report calls for greater strategic oversight over the children’s residential sector to make sure homes open in the right locations and meet children’s needs.

Large numbers of children with complex needs live in homes alone, often with high numbers of staff. Although this may be right for some children, the report warns it should not be the default when planning children’s care as it risks leaving them isolated and vulnerable to mistreatment.

Sir Martyn Oliver, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills said all children deserve to feel secure and well-cared for, but that this is not always the case for children in care, particularly those with multiple needs.

“As this report shows, local authorities are increasingly struggling to find homes that are able to meet these children’s individual needs. There are sector-wide challenges with recruiting and retaining skilled staff and a national shortage of secure and therapeutic homes, so I am concerned about the impact this has on children’s stability.”

The report also questions the broad use of the term ‘complex needs’ in placement decisions, as it can unintentionally group children together whose needs are very different. It recommends a shift away from the umbrella term to describing children’s specific needs and what support they need, and from whom. This should contribute to the clear communication and information-sharing between children’s homes, local authorities and other agencies that is vital for children.

According to the case studies, there were some common elements of practice of local authorities and homes working together and with other agencies that resulted in good experiences for children. Examples where consistency was provided through relationships and that facilitated a sense of belonging for children, where they know that staff would not give up on them and that this is their long-term home were found to have better outcomes. Local authorities that embedded capturing and implementing children’s views on their care were also praised.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care said she was “pleased that this report sets out some examples of good practice that have contributed to children feeling better supported in their homes. However, the number of children’s homes continues to grow, but not in the right places or all offering what children need.”

“I hope this report encourages local authorities and children’s homes to work together in planning what is needed and where, in the best interests of children.”

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