Written evidence submitted by The Chlidren's Society

The Education Select Committees call for evidence on Children’s Homes

The Children’s Society’s response

About the Children’s Society  

The Children’s Society is a leading national charity committed to improving the lives of thousands of children and young people every year. We work across the country with the most disadvantaged children through our specialist services. Our direct work with vulnerable young people supports missing children, children with experiences of sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, children experiencing and witnessing violence and abuse, children in or leaving care, children experiencing poor mental health and well-being and refugee, migrant and trafficked children. 

We welcome this call for evidence and our response draws on evidence from our published research on issues relating to children in the care system as well as learning from our direct practice supporting care experienced young people. 

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

Evidence suggests that looked after children living in children’s homes face the greatest gaps in their educational attainment when compared to their non-looked after peers.[1] Many of the young people we support who live in children’s homes face disruption to their education - experiencing multiple school moves, being educated in house, attending Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and some not being in any form of education or training at all.

Looked after children who are placed in children’s homes out of their home local authority area are especially vulnerable to educational disruption. Being placed out of area often leads to young people being moved far from their previous schools and they frequently face delays in being offered a place in their new area. In 2019 The Children’s Society supported The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on missing children and adults in their Inquiry into children missing from out of area placements. Young people who were interviewed as part of the Inquiry reported that their education had been disrupted due to their placement moves with one young person who had been in an out of area placement for two years telling us that she had only spent two weeks of this time in mainstream education.

It was common for young people to report that they had missed out on long periods of education or were attending Alternative Provision (AP), settings such as PRUs. These alternative provision settings are frequently catch all places, made up of children and young people with a wide variety of vulnerabilities and needs and this can increase a young person’s risk.

We know that children living in children’s homes are 18 times more likely to be attending PRUs than all pupils attending state funded provision nationally[2]. Learning from our direct practice highlights that these children often find themselves on reduced timetables. This can not only impact on their academic learning but also on vital education to help keep them safe. This issue was raised by professionals during the APPG Inquiry, we heard evidence of children and young people missing out on PSHE lessons and the chance to learn about healthy relationships and how to keep safe. This is highly concerning given that our research found that criminal networks sometimes target children’s homes, particularly those known to house children from outside the local area, to groom children from exploitation.

We know that many children living in children’s homes are educated in ‘schools’ within the children’s home. Anecdotal evidence from our practice suggests that all too often these settings are not fit for purpose with young people reporting poor quality education which may only take place for a few hours a week. Furthermore, for some young people being educated at home can perpetuate the experience of loneliness and isolation experienced by looked after children.

Whilst we recognise that academic learning is important – it is vital that the Education Select Committee looks beyond just these aspects of education for care experienced young people. A holistic package of learning is needed that covers life skills such as food and cooking, consent, healthy relationships and young people’s rights. 

The impact of Covid-19

We are concerned that the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted on the education of children in children’s homes and further exacerbated gaps in education for looked after children when compared to their non-looked after peers. We know that many of them were not attending school during the pandemic and have been struggling to feel like they are ‘keeping up’ at home due to lack of appropriate technology, poor internet connections and a lack of support from children’s home staff.

Recommendation: The Department for Education should commission research to better understand the educational experiences of children living in children’s homes. This should not just focus on educational outcomes but look at the quality, breath and consistency of the education that children in care receive. There should be a particular focus on the experiences of young people in out of area care placements.

Recommendation: A requirement should be placed on children’s services to provide evidence that children and young people have been consulted and informed in advance about school moves and any decisions made about their education.

Recommendation: The Department for Education should coordinate joint-working with Virtual School Heads, local authorities and children’s homes to organise a comprehensive and long term Back to Education plan for children in care following Covid-19. Alongside this, they should asses how many children have been missing out on education and focus on those transitioning between primary-secondary schools and secondary school –college, as well as those in Alternative Provision (AP). This needs a coordinated joint working approach from all to provide appropriate holistic care.

  1. 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

We know that many children living in children’s homes may have more complex needs than those accommodated in foster placements. It is vital that these young people are offered the appropriate care and support that they need to overcome previous experiences of abuse, neglect and trauma to help them thrive as they move through life and transition into adulthood. Unfortunately, children living in children’s homes often report being unhappy with their placements as well as the additional support made available to them throughout their time in care this can lead to problems escalating and young people facing increased risks such as going missing or being targeted for grooming and exploitation.

We know that all too often care experienced young people face long wait times following referrals into services that they need. Lack of transitional planning and support for 16 & 17 year olds often leads to young people leaving care with multiple unaddressed needs such as being NEET, being at risk of homelessness and experiencing poverty. And a lack of professional training can mean that a child’s vulnerabilities and needs go left unnoticed with their behaviours being interpreted as difficult or a troublemaking and therefore they often face punitive measures rather than a much needed offer of support

We know that all of these issues are exasperated when looked after child are placed out of area. The APPG Inquiry into out of area placements frequently heard that placing children and young people out of area can act as a barrier to them accessing services that they are entitled to and need. When a child is placed out of area the responsible or placing local authority has a duty to provide the young person with the necessary services and support to safeguard and promote their welfare. However, we heard evidence that some local authorities are neglecting this duty, taking an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach which can leave them without vital interventions, placing them at increased risk. Evidence frequently stated that when young people are moved away from their home local authorities they often find it difficult to access the support services they need in a timely way, often being placed at the bottom of a waiting list. This is particularly pertinent for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and other local mental health services.

We heard how some local areas extend their non-statutory services to children and young people who have been placed there by other local authorities. However, it was clear that this is not consistent practice.

Recommendation: Good practice guidance on placement planning and how support children in out of area placements should be cascaded and rolled out, this should include a requirement on local authorities to name and secure services for young people before they move and provide information on supporting children and young people to maintain contact with their family and friends as well as information on providing opportunities for young people to learn new skills about keeping themselves safe in their new area and in developing healthy relationships. 

  1. The use and appropriateness of unregulated provision

Our research and feedback from direct work with vulnerable adolescents consistently highlights concerns with the high level of needs children have and the quality and insufficiency of support provided to many children placed in unregulated accommodation, concerns with the lack of safeguarding response children receive when they are placed in unregulated accommodation and the increasing number of placements in unregulated accommodation that are outside the child’s home area.[3]  


We have been and remain strong advocates for the regulation of the currently unregulated accommodation and welcomed the recent announcement from the government to introduce a set of National Standards for this type of accommodation. It is vital that these standards are developed in full consultation with children and young people as well as the children’s sector, placing a focus on ensuring that children receive the best support and safeguarding response they need consistently across the country when they are placed in these types of settings.


However, in our view, any changes to how unregulated accommodation operates or is regulated need to be introduced as part of a wider programme of reforms that addresses the lack of sufficient placements for looked after children in foster care and children’s homes in locations where children need them. It is important to acknowledge that the lack of sufficient provision for looked after children, combined with the lack of oversight of currently unregulated accommodation is driving the inappropriate use of unregulated accommodation and that it has detrimental impact on children’s safety and wellbeing.  


We are concerned that without changes addressing the sufficiency of placements locally and nationally, this type of provision will inappropriately remain the last resort for children with complex needs who experience multiple placement breakdowns and move from one emergency placement to another, often in unregulated accommodation, as highlighted by the Dorset judgement. Or that it may become the provision of choice for all 16 and 17 year olds, irrespective of whether they feel ready to start their transition to independence or the level of risk they experience in their lives; or the only provision for young people seeking asylum in this country or who are victims of trafficking.  


We are also concerned that introduction of strict measures to standardise and regulate ‘other’ provision for looked after children without addressing overall sufficiency issues in placement provision may result in further reduction in placements availability and, consequentially, in vulnerable children being left in situations of abuse or facing other risks to their safety and wellbeing.   


Recommendation: When developing the National Standards the Department for Education should consult with children and young people in care and those with experiences of placements in unregulated provision to understand the role this provision needs to play, the needs it should accommodate and the best way children need to be safeguarded and supported and publish the outcome of that consultation. These findings must be central to the development of the National Standards.  



Recommendation: The Department for Education should develop an Emergency Action Plan to address the issue of the lack of placements for children in care and children in need. The Government must take responsibility for ensuring that there are sufficient local placements to meet the needs of looked after children and 16 and 17 year olds accommodated due to homelessness. The plan should address the supply and the distribution of children’s homes nationally, and the use of unregulated semi-independent provision for children in care and those at risk of homelessness. It should be backed by funding.   

Recommendation: The Department for Education should produce best practice guidelines on what a good sufficiency strategy should look like. They must follow up and ensure that all local authorities have updated their strategies. 

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

The extent of the impact of the pandemic and ‘lockdown’ on the care system and care experienced young people is yet to be fully understood. The following reflects emerging concerns based on available data, evidence collected from professionals working directly with young people in statutory and voluntary services via an online form hosted by The Children’s Society and practitioners in voluntary organisations supporting children in care and care leavers.

Placement breakdowns 

COVID-19 has become an additional factor in placements breakdowns.  Practitioners working directly with young people report that some children in care and care leavers have been struggling with adherence to social distancing requirements, particularly, in placements that young people did not feel positive about. Others may have not been receiving the right support and will have felt lonely and isolated, missing their families or friends. This may have resulted in them seeking contact outside their placements leading to placement providers ending placements given worries about coronavirus. As a result, an increased number of vulnerable young people are likely to be living in emergency and unregulated accommodation.


Safeguarding of children and young people in unregulated accommodation 


Many providers of unregulated accommodation are doing their best to support young people. This was true pre-pandemic and has remained true during the pandemic. At the same time serious concerns with the use of unregulated accommodation for some of the most vulnerable young people who are at risk of exploitation were identified before the outbreak of COVID-19, these problems are likely to have been compounded by COVID-19, due to reported staff shortages and changes in contact with social workers.[4]

Children living in independent or semi-independent accommodation are more likely than other children in care to feel lonely during the lockdown.[5] Furthermore, anecdotal evidence from NSPCC’s Childline highlights that feelings of isolation associated with living in unregulated accommodation is impacting on young people’s mental health during the pandemic.  

Children missing from care

No reliable data on children missing from care during COVID-19 is available and will not be available till later in the year. According to a Ministerial letter children’s homes did not report an increase in missing episode and some reported a reduction in numbers.[6]

Many return home interview services reported a decrease in referrals at the beginning of lockdown, currently the number of referrals is returning to pre-COVID-19 levels, an indication that more children are starting to go missing.

Feedback from practitioners in voluntary sector organisations also suggests that the risk of exploitation remained high despite the lockdown restrictions. In addition children who go missing may not be able to go to relatives or friends as those people may be shielding. In those cases children are more likely to be at risk of relying on strangers or sleeping rough.

Concerns have also been raised about some disagreements between the police and care home staff on the response to children going missing, particularly where care providers either due to staff shortages or due to concerns about coronavirus feel unable to undertake initial searches to locate a child. Coronavirus guidance for children’s social care services does not include any information on how to respond to children missing from care during COVID-19.



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

Being supported to keep in touch with friends and family is extremely important to looked after children’s well-being. Not being supported to do so is often cited as the reason why children and young people go missing from care, or feel unhappy about their placement.[7]


This issue effects all looked after children but is particularly pertinent for those placed out of area. During the APPG inquiry into looked after children placed out of area we frequently heard how young people’s lives were disrupted when they were moved to live outside their home areas. They lost contact with their families and friends, were often moved without any preparation or prior notice of the placement. They told us how this disruption caused them to go missing, trying to get back to their familiar surroundings and family and friends. These accounts show that children’s wishes and feelings are very seldom central to how decisions are made about out of area placements.


During the Covid-19 pandemic regulatory changes have helped to ensure that private communication on the phone, via video-link or using other electronic communication methods can happen where face-to-face meeting is not possible. This has been a positive intervention for some children in care. However, despite this insights from practice show that young people have not always been supported to maintain contact with friends, family and social workers during this time. Many care experienced young people have not had access to functional technology to keep in contact with family and friends; this is particularly common for young people living in unregulated accommodation.


Recommendation: Keeping in contact with family and friends must be seen as a priority for all children and young people coming into care. They should be supported to continue communication in whichever way is safe for them to do so. When a child is moved out of area a plan must be put in place to ensure that contact remains and funding should be allocated for family visits and trips. 


Recommendation: Recovery planning should prioritise fostering and rebuilding relationships between looked after children and their family and friends. Care experienced young people must be given the opportunity to discuss how and when they would like communication to resume and they should be supported to make this happen.


April 2021