Children’s homes play such an important part in some children’s lives. So I want to talk to you today about the fact that there are many homes that are doing a fantastic job for children. Earlier this year, Ofsted visited a children’s home in the North West. Four children who have emotional and behavioural problems live there.
We had previously inspected this children’s home in late 2016, when we rated it outstanding. This time around, the inspector judged that the home had managed to improve its effectiveness even further, and that the young people who live there are receiving exceptionally high standards of care.
So what are the features of this home? As you would expect it is a very nurturing environment and it provides the children with stability and consistency.
Our inspector found that the management’s strong emphasis on good routines is enabling the children to make progress. For example, one young person was beginning to sleep regularly, with the result that he was able to concentrate better at school. His teachers had also awarded him certificates for outstanding behaviour.
Happy and safe
The young people told us that they were happy and felt safe, and that they thoroughly enjoyed their life at this children's home.
This home is good at what it does as the result of the hard work and the professionalism of the staff. They know what works for the children they care for.
In recent years the government has focused a lot of attention on adoption. For a child who has had a difficult start in life, adoption can provide permanence and certainty. It can offer the chance of a stable childhood with one caring family.
But unfortunately there will always be some children for whom this is not the right option. That’s why children’s homes, such as this one, are so important.
There are more than 2,000 children’s homes in England and nearly all care for children who need somewhere to live outside a family home, although some provide short break care or have shared care arrangements. The good news is that most of these homes do an effective job.
And they are improving too.
Good or better
According to the Children's Social Care in England 2017 statistical bulletin published this morning, the proportion of children’s homes judged to be good or better is at its highest in the last five years. The majority of children’s homes judged to be inadequate at their first inspection in 2016-17 improved during the year.
Being in a children’s home is usually a positive experience for young people, as long as they are able to stay there long enough to reap the benefits. In most homes, children say they are happy, and they do well at school. The educational attainment of children in care is in fact better than that of their peers on children in need plans.
Ofsted visits children's homes regularly. In a single year, we will carry out more than 2,000 full inspections of homes across England.
When we inspect, we find that most children say they feel safe in their home. Like all children, they will have worries and concerns. But what matters is that the home’s managers and staff take these into account and deal with them.
When we visit children’s homes that are not yet good, our inspectors often come across people working in children’s homes that do not take into account the individual needs of each child and the actual risks they encounter or know what to do to help them.
Inspectors want to see evidence that staff know the children well, what they like and dislike, their fears and their joys. Staff who are focused on each child’s personal wellbeing and continuous development. Staff who have the skills to be able to help children.
Children’s homes that Ofsted has rated outstanding are not all the same. However, if there’s one thing that links them, it’s that they all have outstanding leaders who understand their strengths and weaknesses. And they run the children’s homes for the benefit of the children, who do well as a result.
Of course, at Ofsted we’re very much focused on children’s welfare. Which is why our social care common inspection framework focuses on how social care managers and staff are working towards the end result, rather than the end result itself.
So, when we talk with staff in a children’s home we ask them how the children in their care are getting on. Do they feel safe, are they happy and making progress? There is less talk about process and procedures.
Our inspectors of children’s home all have a thorough professional experience of the sector. They know that progress is relative to circumstances.
There’s a strange myth that only small children’s homes can be outstanding. In fact, we have awarded many larger homes the top grade too. Progress and experience are what matter most. The size of a children’s home is immaterial if its managers and staff are able to work with all the children who live there.
What works for the children
A further myth is that we are unlikely to give outstanding or good grades to homes that are working with children that have complex needs. In fact, it’s quite the opposite - the best homes do the best for any child as they know what works. I intend to talk about this more later in the year.
Talking about the outstanding children’s home in the North West, a social worker told us: "I just wish that there were more places like it so that more children could benefit in the same way that X clearly does."
So do I. Not every children’s home can be outstanding. But children's homes will always be with us, so I can only hope - for the sake of the 5% or so of the children who need this kind of support - that they keep getting even better.