After the Prime Minister’s speech to the Conservative Party conference Looked After Children are now, truly, Children in Care, in the care of all of us. To name the scandal of the social exclusion of Children in Care was a brave and necessary thing.
There was an audible ‘Hurrah’ from those of us in the sector working so hard to provide unconditional caring for young people. To us it was a sign of a moral responsibility taken seriously, a Prime Minister making the commitment to be a better parent of the big family of children in the care of the state. Our national family was confirmed. From now on ‘in care’ means not someone ‘looking after’ children but all of us taking our responsibility for caring for all our children. At long last corporate parenting has made it to the top of the national agenda in the Prime Minister’s big speech.
Why is corporate parenting so important? It means the children in our country’s care have all of us as parents. It matters when it can feel as though there’s no one else in the world to find there are family members with the means to support you in the way you need, who will ‘go that extra mile’. In a single act he made us all, throughout the country, relatives that Children in Care can count on.
The philosophy that as a ‘national family’ we are all collectively responsible for our children is one that goes deep to the heart of the culture, beliefs and practices of social care professionals who have too long felt left out in the cold themselves without a wider family of respect, support or recognition in the world of ‘big’ politics.
Everybody needs someone who is crazy about them, who knows what makes them tick, the person who changes their life forever just by knowing them, who encourages them to imagine and look forward, the person who makes all the difference. This kind of human magic happens every day in children’s homes across our country. Our children’s home needs someone who is crazy about them too. Children’s homes need a Prime Minister that is crazy about them, making a difference to a system and situation that is daily wearing them down.
Most providers of children’s homes are not run by local authorities; most children’s homes are small, caring, businesses with one, maybe two, homes. They make a living, and many are really struggling to do so. They are not ‘corporate giants’ and do not ‘make millions’ as the old story about care used to go. They’ve faced doing more and more for less year after year. The Independent Children’s Homes Association recent state of the sector survey shows that now there isn’t anything left to negotiate over. The reality is that now children’s homes need nurturing, emotionally and financially, or they will not be there when children need them.
Thinking of those people working in children’s homes the ICHA asked Mr Cameron and Mr Osbourne in their roles as Lords of the Treasury in the Budget to make children’s homes an equal case, not a special case, for example by giving tax benefits to residential child care workers the same as for foster carers.
Some people say children’s homes are expensive. Children’s homes cost more than other forms of care. By being able to meet their needs a children’s home can be the best option for young people. Think intensive not expensive, there are many times across the life cycle that it can take a team of people to look after another of our family. As corporate parents do we view the best option as ‘too costly’ or what we need to do if that’s what a young person needs?
Though legislation says it should be the right placement first time sometimes young people’s needs haven’t been responded to appropriately for years. The Government’s Data Pack on children’s homes shows young people coming to children’s homes after a series of other family and community based placements. So imagine starting to really live your life years after it started and feeling emotional security for the first time? As a result of everything that’s happened you might not be where your peers are when examination time comes around. Outcomes are seen as poorer for children’s homes. If you arrive at over 14 years old where have you been before? Are we saying that has nothing to do with now? What happens in children’s homes is often a correlation of past failures in the children’s services system, that’s what the Prime Minister was saying. We can and must do better, at the start, all the way through, and especially when it is critical. When it is critical is the time when families stick together strongest.
Children’s homes need to have the equality of opportunity. What it takes to meet that child’s needs should be the fee paid to the home, a matter of nurturing the response to be the best it can be, not a negotiation to pay the least. There is no doubt ethics and economics are needed in equal supply. We can’t have price alone determining what can be done if that price, not need, determines the choice of care option.
For too long, almost too late, children’s homes have suffered in the name of protecting the treasury of the local authority rather than promoting the treasure we have in the carers and the future lives of Children in Care.