My final Children’s Home – A place I called home.
A welcome announcement was made at the start off 2014 by the DfE, bringing news of the legislative changes to how Looked after Children in Residential Care are given the opportunity to find a place to belong and feel safe. But what do these changes really mean, and are they positive or negative?
In future, only senior council officials in charge of children’s services will be able to place children out of area and only when they judge it to be the right decision for a child to be moved away from their home area. There will be one individual in each local authority who is directly accountable for these decisions.
This change in itself can only be positive if the decision makers keep the child as their focus at all times. My social worker felt that to move us out of London, away from my parents would be detrimental to our relationship. What she meant by this, as stated in my files, was that my parents loved us and would find it too difficult to be separated if too long a distance. So we were moved to a children’s home about 10 miles away, and kept in our primary school, which was at the end of the street which my parents lived in.
Here is my reality, age 9, a child looked after by the state, of that decision, that kept my parents needs as their focus.
My dad would arrive at my primary school, in the middle of lessons, come into the classroom, drunk. I would hide under the table wishing my world to end at that very moment.
Later that night – I would be left with deep deep sadness at my longing for the love of my dad, but feeling utterly helpless to help him. I was 9, 10, 11.
My mum would turn up at both my primary school and my children’s home. Drunk and angry. We learnt, after my mum had taken to waiting outside the school gates for the children’s home staff to pick us up, to peek behind the wall to see if she was there. When she was, with her obligatory can of coke, topped up with whiskey, I would run back and hide with my head teacher. Before we had worked out this strategy, my mum had taken to getting into the van, attacking the staff, with the police having to be called to take her away, screaming and kicking. In front of everyone.
She would also, often, arrive at the children’s home, in the same state, attack the staff once more, and the whole sorry outcome would be the same every time. Police. Arrest. Shame.
Nowhere in my files does it state a discussion occurred about moving us away from where my parents could get to us, nor were we asked if this was what we wanted. It was.
Later, I got my wish, and was not only moved far away, but I was able to direct the court through my Guardian ad Litem, to keep details of my location away from my parents. Relief.
However, these decisions will always have an impact somewhere in the child’s world. So, unless there is a safeguarding issue, can you ever win?
I lost all contact with my friends, my sense of my world having left the area which I called home, and moved school.
In my case it should have been an obvious decision to move us away. However, if there are not these issues, and there is not quality Residential Care or Foster Care provision in your area, what will you do? What will you do when the cost is much higher to keep Looked after Children closer to home? Who will scrutinize the decisions to move out of area. Will the decisions be scrutinized too late for that child?
I’m afraid I have more questions than answers.
Other changes include:
- introducing rules so homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area
- changing the regulations so new homes only open in safe areas, run by competent providers and ensuring homes already open in less safe areas evidence that they can keep children safe, or face closure
- improving the quality of care by requiring staff and managers in homes to be suitably qualified within a strict time frame
- working with Ofsted to strengthen their inspection and intervention powers so ‘good’ is the only acceptable standard, and unsafe homes close unless they can evidence swift improvement
- putting much greater information on the quality and location of children’s homes into the public domain – this autumn we published an extended data pack to improve accountability and drive improvements by sharing best practice
I’m excited by all of the changes, but anxious to see the action plans needed to implement and fund these changes.
Missing children from care is one of my biggest concerns. Do we, anywhere, have data to inform us of how many children have gone missing from care and never seen again? Where are the determined efforts to find these children?
The legislation which states that children missing from care should be treated as a priority, and as a serious concern, often isn’t happening on the frontline. Horrifyingly, the legislation is being interpreted in different ways, and often is being taken at its most minimal.
I will not accept lack of resources as an answer to this.
So – all in all, in my opinion, all changes are welcome, but much is to be revealed. This can only ever be the beginning of a new start for children looked after by the state.
What do you think?
Jen Aka Hackney Child