Written evidence submitted by St Christopher's Fellowship

Response from St Christopher’s Fellowship

Children in care homes – call for evidence

About St Christopher’s

St Christopher’s Fellowship is a charity looking after children and young people in care, on the edge of care and leaving care. We provide children’s homes, semi-independent accommodation, fostering and outreach services (including educational support, therapeutic support and preventative work) across England and the Isle of Man.


Educational outcomes for children and young people in children’s homes, including attainment and progression to education, employment and training destinations

By law, every child should be in some form of education until they are 18. However, there are many children in care who are not attending education, training or employment (NEET). Not attending school leads to lower attainment and widens the gap between children in care and their peers.

Local authorities need to focus on retention plans for social workers to prevent staffing instability from negatively impacting the lives of young people. At St Christopher’s, relationships are central to everything we do. We believe building positive relationships with young people grows their confidence and helps them to reach their full potential. As many young people in children’s homes have experienced multiple placement moves and changes of social worker, there is a lack of consistency and stability in their lives.

Young people might start their journey in care with high aspirations for themselves and their futures. However, this is impacted by the aspirations that adults in their life have for them. They can end up fitting in with the expectations of their current environment – for example, if a children’s home does not aspire for the child to go onto university, the child also starts to lower their expectations.

Recording about young people needs to be vastly improved and framed positively. Information in young people’s case files is often missed when their social worker changes, so when a new social worker is assigned they do not always have enough information to make informed decisions about the child. They do not know basic information about them, such as their interests or plans for the future, so cannot adequately support them to realise their goals. This contradicts the need for strong, lasting relationships and can make young people reluctant to open up if they feel that these people will soon leave their lives too. They stop talking about their aspirations and they therefore go unrecorded by professionals.

We would like to see achievement plans as part of young people’s care plans. This could track markers of achievement, what professionals would hope to see as a young person’s progresses and looking at the positives, taking into account the different routes to individual success.


The quality of, and access to, support for children and young people in children’s homes, including support for those with special education needs, and the support available at transition points

Quality of and access to support

We would welcome increased accountability on local authorities for securing appropriate education and learning support, and clearer allocation of responsibilities. Communication between local authority departments could be improved. Departments can disagree about who is responsible for funding, especially if a child is placed in a home outside of the local authority who has parental responsibility for them.

During the pandemic, schools were open for children in care. However, for young people changing school due to a placement move, it was hard to find them a school place. There were some offers of virtual learning or promises to look into options after lockdown, with limited emphasis on finding something appropriate. This causes more chaos in young people’s lives.

Local authorities place different value on education. Some local authorities prioritise it and have educationalists in their teams – in our experience young people from these boroughs tend to do better in the care system and have more access to services and support. For other local authorities, education is not always as high a priority and they see sourcing education as the responsibility of the children’s home. If the home does not take the lead in this situation, education can fall off the radar.

The time that some young people spend out of education needs to be reduced. For young people who are stepping down from hospital or have been out of education for over a year but have no Special Education Needs (SEN), it is challenging to support them back into education – mainstream school is not suitable and they often do not have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). It can take up to a year to get them back into education and by the time this happens, their enthusiasm has gone and they are anxious about returning to learning. When you try to fill the gap with a meaningful activity or non-formal learning, the experience or learning does not hold as the young person has been so transient. Local authorities know that these young people require a higher level of support as they want intense one-to-one staffing, but this is not matched with a commitment to education.

On the other hand, sometimes social workers choose alternative educational provision as the standard option of schooling for a young person in care, even if mainstream school could work for them with some support. Time would be better spent ensuring there is a strong, linked network of professionals around the child. Providing continuity of relationships in a child’s life will help them to thrive – the adults can identify young people’s strengths and interests to find routes into or ways through education, training and employment that suit them best and will be more successful.

We want young people in children’s homes to have access to the same opportunities that they would in mainstream school, instead of missing out because they attend alternative provision or are not in school. For example, work experience opportunities supported by school help young people build key skills for adulthood. There is other value provided by extracurricular activities such as joining a club, going to prom or attending school trips. These activities all create lasting memories and help young people in care feel more connected to their peers, instead of always feeling different. If young people miss out on the fun elements of education, it prevents them from feeling motivated to continue with the learning side.

In our children’s homes and semi-independent homes, we provide peripatetic education support to help young people while they await a school place or if they are disengaged with education. This learning support is tailored to their needs and builds their self-confidence, so they feel able to work towards qualifications that can help them achieve their goals. This services bridges any gaps and keeps young people engaged with some form of learning, which sustains their motivation for and interest in education.

SEN support

National data shows that 55.7% of children in care require SEN support and 25% of these receive an EHCP. Sometimes a child is put on an EHCP but there is no follow up or monitoring of how they progress – there is not a clear pathway of support for EHCPs, particularly once a child leaves their children’s home for semi-independent accommodation. Schools have a responsibility here but there does not appear to be any accountability.

When a young person moves into a new home that is out of their own area, even if they have an ECHP and especially if they have SEN, it is difficult to get the right support for them due to disconnection between local authorities.


The Department for Education tracks how many care leavers maintain contact with their former care home once they transition to independence. The support provided varies enormously between local authorities.

We run a Staying Close project funded through the Department for Education Innovation Programme. This project has been co-produced with young people to give them control over their transition from their children’s home to independence. It centres on helping young people maintain relationships with the staff at St Christopher’s who they wish to stay in touch with. These relationships reduce isolation and help young people access support and information from professionals they are close to. We believe this model benefits young people’s wellbeing, which will then help them to thrive in education, training and employment. We would be happy to talk about this model in more detail and how it can be replicated.


The use and appropriateness of unregulated provision

We run five semi-independent homes with 24/7 staffing. Three of these are on block contracts to local authorities and two are spot purchase provisions. We run one independent home as part of our Staying Close model, which is regularly visited by staff and has close links to the residents’ former children’s homes in the area.

We asked young people living in our semi-independent services what they liked best so that we can share examples of practice that has made the biggest difference. They said:

Ensuring young people have a positive, thought-out transition to these services helps make the placement a success. This can only be achieved by involving young people in their care planning. If organisations work in a child-centred way, it will lead to better outcomes for young people. Some private providers are not working in our sector for the right reasons, which mean they do not always put young people’s needs first. There needs to be monitoring of providers to ensure they do this for every young person they work with. At times we have had to take the lead on supporting young people’s transitions into our semi-independent homes as local authorities have failed to do this, despite it falling under their requirements.

We support the government’s ban on placing under 16s in unregulated accommodation and would never accept a referral for a young person of this age to one of our semi-independent homes. We know some organisations are lobbying the government to extend the ban so that under-18s are also unable to be placed in independent and semi-independent accommodation but we feel that there is a place for these services in the lives of 16 and 17 year olds. Many young people move into our semi-independent homes aged 16 or 17 and live there for years, maintaining relationships even after they move out. We also question what provision is available for the 2,000 young people in this category if they were no longer able to live in unregulated homes, as there is already a national shortage of children’s home and foster placements.

Extending this ban to under 18s would also negatively impact unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). From our experience we know that these young people sometimes struggle to live in foster homes as the family setting can trigger their trauma. They can also sometimes find it difficult to live in children’s homes due to the restrictions placed on them after having experienced high levels of independence during their journey to this country. The UASC we have supported in our semi-independent homes have settled in really well and have received appropriate support to help them settle into the UK and progress their asylum claim.

We provided a detailed response to the Department for Education’s consultations on proposed changes to unregulated accommodation in 2020, along with a report of direct consultation with young people. Please contact us if you would like to see the full submission.


Criminalisation of children in children’s homes

The Howard League’s programme to reduce the criminalisation of children in care has some useful research and resources.


The sufficiency of places in children’s homes, and the regional location of homes

Around 10% of referrals we receive are for residential placements (children’s home and semi-independent homes). In England there are 12,175 places across 2,460 children’s homes. In March 2019 only around 6,400 of these places were occupied – however, we know there is a lack of appropriate residential placements, so this underuse could be due to constraints on matching or because the available homes do not suit the needs of the young people.

Children’s homes are expensive to buy, set up and register. The North West has 2,156 homes and the North East has 1,671 homes, compared to only 671 in London and 629 in the South West. This disparity is due to differences in property prices.

Most children’s homes are owned by private providers (76.3%), followed by local authorities (17.2%) and the voluntary sector (5.3%). As private providers have to at least partially focus on profits for their shareholders, we question whether they are running services that truly have children’s needs at their heart.

Local authorities tend to prefer fostering placements, even for high-needs young people – fostering is cheaper than residential, which costs at least £3,000 per week. When they cannot find appropriate foster homes as the level of support required is too high, they start to consider residential options instead. However, they still only have budgetary approval for a fostering placement and have to go back to their management lines to secure further funding, which draws out the process and slows things down for the young person.

We receive referrals for young people with high needs (nearly always referencing mental health needs) and at risk of county lines, grooming, gang affiliation and sexual exploitation. There is a need for specialist provision to care for young people with these needs and risks, such as our Safe Steps children’s home in London for girls at risk of exploitation and community threats. Our model keeps young people in an urban setting (instead of rural or secure placements), teaching them how to identify risks and recognise healthy relationships. We are now seeing an increased need for a specialist home like this for boys with similar risks.

We also provide solo children’s homes offering 2:1 staffing ratio and waking night support. These provide high level support and can act as a step-down option from secure homes. Our solo homes fit into our Hub and Spoke model, which gives young people the opportunity to move from a one-bed home into a four-bed home as their needs change, while maintaining relationships with the same staff in the same area to limit disruption in their lives.

When risks are very high, some local authorities will only consider placements outside of the young person’s local area as they believe this will help keep them safe. However, it can be challenging for the local authority to link up with the relevant services in the area where the young person is placed, so they can miss out on support. Some local authorities aim to keep young people in their own area, but do not always have the luxury of finding the right placement within the right location due to sufficiency issues. We provided detailed information about this to the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults when they looked into out of area placements – please contact us if you would like to see the full submission.


The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the extent to which this might increase the demand for places in children’s homes

DfE data shows the number of children entering the care system between April and November 2020 was 29% lower than in previous years. However, there have also been reports of fewer children leaving the care system due to lockdown restrictions on family reunifications and court hearings.

At the beginning of the pandemic we saw a significant increase in the number of emergency referrals for young people into our services due to breakdowns in their existing placement or their home life. There were more referrals of young people entering care for the first time, which meant there was little information on their background. This has stabilised since access to testing and vaccinations has increased.

Young people have been referred to our children’s homes for self-isolation before moving onto their intended placement. We have challenged local authorities on this as they need to consider the safety of young people already living in the home and how the additional change in home may feel for the person self-isolating. We cannot use children’s homes as quarantine hotels but can support young people who move in, self-isolate, then stay in the home.

There are concerns within the sector that fallout from the pandemic will lead to more children being placed in care, but at the moment it is difficult to say if this will be realised and how big the impact will be.

Another impact of the pandemic has been burnout in the workforce – staff working in children’s homes have been heroes throughout, but it has been a tiring experience for them. Recognising their keyworker role during the pandemic was very helpful and we would welcome more emphasis on their contributions so that their profile and status can be raised. This would also aid national recruitment and retention issues in the sector and attract more people to the profession, as they will recognise its value.


The support available for kinship carers, and for children in homes to maintain relationships with their birth families

Support levels depend on the local authority. Wider use of technology triggered by the pandemic has increased accessibility and added to the range of opportunities for children to have contact with their families.

In our children’s homes, we appreciate when local authorities allow us to collaborate with them on contact arrangements as it provides more autonomy and reduces the challenges that arise when multiple children in one home all have different arrangements with their families.

April 2021