Written evidence submitted by the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England

Written Evidence to the Education Select Committee enquiry into children’s homes


About the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England:

The role of the Children’s Commissioner was initially established under the Children Act 2004 which gave the Commissioner responsibility for promoting awareness of the views and interests of children. The Commissioner’s statutory remit includes understanding what children and young people think about things that affect them and encouraging decision makers to always take their best interests into account. Her unique data gathering powers and powers of entry to talk with children and gain evidence, enable her to help bring about long-term change and improvements for children, particularly the most vulnerable.

The Children and Families Act 2014 further strengthened the remit, powers and independence of the Commissioner, and gave her special responsibility for the rights of children who are in or leaving care, living away from home or receiving social care services.

The current holder of the office is Dame Rachel de Souza who took office on 1st March 2021.

The Children’s Commissioner’s work on children’s homes 

The Children’s Commissioner has a statutory responsibility to particularly consider vulnerable children and those accommodated by the state, and as such has a wide programme of work relating to children in children’s homes and other forms of residential care. This has included large-scale statistical work, engagement with children in care and economic analysis of private care homes and foster agencies.

The key reports relevant to this inquiry are as follows:

The reports above all inform an over-arching report on children in residential care The children who no-one knows what to do with[6] which was published in November 2020 and summarises the findings of three years of work by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office on residential care.

The premise of the report is that children should grow up in a home, not an institution. Quite rightly, the priority within children’s social care over the past two decades has been to promote foster care over children’s homes. The Children’s Commissioner believes this is the right ambition, but has sometimes led to a situation where residential care has been neglected, locally and nationally, despite the fact that 6,750 children are growing up in children’s homes. The report acknowledges that there are many children in England who are in good care placements. There is some excellent practice in England’s children’s social care, including some very good children’s homes, many of which are privately provided. The problem is that not all children experience this. When we are discussing the lives of children, no failure rate is acceptable. The current situation is that there are insufficient good quality placements, often located in the wrong places, meaning too many children end up in poor-quality placements, experiencing high instability and being placed far from home.

The November 2020 report highlighted this by drawing on cases of children we have supported through ‘Help at Hand’, the Children’s Commissioner’s advice and representation service for children in care. Here are some examples of stories children wanted to have shared so that other children would not be treated in the same way (names have been changed).

        Chloe was 13 and placed in a secure children’s home until they said they would no longer look after her. The matter came before the court where the judge said: “Over 30 institutions have been approached (including in Scotland) via a central agency, but despite daily calls and updates, nothing is available. It is said that there are some 40 children awaiting secure placements at the current time. The local authority has not confined itself to regulated secure accommodation but has also enquired with unregulated homes, to which they would propose adding a suitable support package. Nothing has borne fruit.” Chloe ended up in a rented flat with unknown agency staff supervising her on a 4:1 staff ratio.

        Millie, a girl in her early teens, was placed in numerous unregulated and unregistered homes including a hotel. She was then admitted to a mental health ward under section. When she was due to be discharged from hospital the local authority said there was not a single registered place that could have her in the country and she had to go into another unregistered setting. This was a flat with care being provided despite no Ofsted registration, which is illegal.

        For another girl under 16 who our Help at Hand team assisted, not a single children’s home across the country agreed to look after her – she was deemed to be ‘too high risk’ because of her behaviour. She moved from secure care to unregulated accommodation and back into secure care within 2 months, going through serious disruption as a result, despite the children’s home system purporting to be varied enough to meet different levels of need.

There have been numerous High Court judgements over the past 2 years highlighting these issues over recent years. Here is one example from 2020:

“It is plain that, despite the issue being highlighted in multiple court decisions since 2017, and by the Children’s Commissioner, the shortage of clinical provision for placement of children and adolescents requiring assessment and treatment for mental health issues within a restrictive clinical environment, the shortage of secure placements and the shortage of regulated placements remains. In this context, children like G with highly complex needs and behaviour continue to fall through the gaps that exist between secure accommodation, regulated accommodation and detention under the mental health legislation.” –

The stark choice thus faced by the court is to refuse to authorise the deprivation of G’s liberty in an unregistered placement, which will result in her discharge into the community where she will almost certainly cause herself possibly fatal harm, or to authorise the deprivation of G’s liberty in an unregistered placement that all parties agree is sub-optimal from the perspective of her welfare because that unregulated placement is, quite simply, the only option available.”

The background to this matter is one that is now depressingly familiar to the Family Division of the High Court.”

Lancashire CC v G (Unavailability of Secure Accommodation) [2020] EWHC 2828 (Fam)

Research from the Children’s Commissioner’s Office places these cases in the context of three groups of children for whom the system is repeatedly failing to provide adequate accommodation for:

Children in unstable care: 8,000

Distinguishing poor quality placements within statistics is challenging. The closest proxy we have to measure children being let down by the system is stability – the number of times a child moves between homes. A care ‘placement’ (the home in which a child lives), should be as close to permanent as possible. Children in care are the same as everyone else: they want stability at home and in their relationships, and frequent moves undermine this. Instability and ‘placement’ moves remain the top issue raised with the Children’s Commissioner’s Office. But some moves are inevitable, and some moves are desired by children. Therefore, when looking for the children most let down by the system, we have focused on the children with very high instability and frequent ‘placement’ moves over multiple years. Moving a child between homes once may be needed, but twice should not be, and more than this suggests serious failings to meet the child’s needs. It is never in a child’s best interest to have three or more ‘homes’ within one year. Yet, in England on 31 March 2019 there were:

Children in unregulated accommodation: 13,000

Of all the children who were in care in 2018/19, around 1 in 8 – 12,800 children – spent some time in unregulated accommodation, meaning homes which do not provide care, do not have to meet any basic standards and are not inspected. These homes are overwhelmingly (79%) provided by the private sector. Unlike children’s homes, where Ofsted performs due diligence on home owners and managers, there is no oversight of who owns or runs these homes. Some of these homes could, and would, be able to register if appropriate regulation was put in place.

Children in need of secure care: unknown

Ideally, no child should ever need to be placed in secure care for their own benefit. If there were decent, therapeutic, community-based alternatives, no-one would lock a child up ‘for their own good’. But, unfortunately, this provision does not exist for some children, and so at any one time around 100 children are in secure children’s homes. These are local authority-run homes, granted special designation by the Secretary of State for Education which enables them to lock children up. They tend to care for England’s most vulnerable children of all: those who are a severe danger to themselves or others, or whose lives are at risk from criminal gangs. A child can only be placed in one of these homes if supported by a Court Order under section 25 of the Children Act. However, there is currently an acute lack of capacity for these homes. As the judgments cited above show, there can be 30-40 children awaiting each place in a secure children’s home. Children who cannot find a place in a secure children’s home are usually detained elsewhere, often in flats or other accommodation with large teams of agency staff. If children are being held in conditions equivalent to secure care, then there should be a ‘Deprivation of Liberty’ order from the High Court, the numbers of which have been rising exponentially in recent years.

The rest of this briefing will focus on the specific questions posed by the Committee.


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

Children in care have lower levels of attainment than other children, even children still living with their families under Child Protection Plans. For example, in 2019/20, 7% of children in care for less than 12 months achieved grade 5 or above in English and Maths GCSEs compared to 50% of children not under social care services and 11% under CP plans[7]. Our office has not researched the attainment of children in children’s homes (CHs) compared to other types of care, such as foster care, however our research has identified education challenges affecting children in CHs specifically. Our findings suggest that outcomes for children in CHs may be partly explained by the education they receive in these settings and because of other care-related factors that disproportionately affect children in CHs, such as instability and being placed at distances from their home areas.


Why are children in CHs more likely to live out of area?

In our 2019 ‘Pass the Parcel’ report[8] we found that children placed out of area are more likely to live in a children’s home (13%) than children living within their local authority (5%). This is largely because there is not sufficient local capacity to meet the needs of the cohort of children who require residential care, who tend to have more complex needs than those in foster care.

Finding these children appropriate places is a challenge, exacerbated by the fact there simply are not enough placements and they are often in the wrong place. Currently a quarter of all children’s homes are in the North West region. Only 1 in 19 homes are in London. This comes partly down to an increasing reliance on private provision within the children’s homes market, as opposed to local authority or charitable provision[9]. Unlike LA-run homes which operate locally, private providers tend to set up CHs in more affordable areas of the country, and therefore not in major cities and towns. The major issue here is sufficiency of placements, which we go into in more detail below.

Disruption and missed education:

‘Pass the parcel’, which looked at the experiences of children living in CHs far from their local areas, found that disruption to education is common when children move. This is relevant because: 1) children in CHs move more often than other children in care[10] resulting in more disruption and lost learning, and 2) children in CHs are more likely to live out of area requiring home areas to navigate the unfamiliar education systems run by different councils, which can cause further delays.

We interviewed children during September and October 2019 and many of them had no school place for the beginning of the school year. This was a common occurrence for older children, a number of whom were stuck waiting for decisions from professionals. We heard about waits of weeks or months, despite statutory duties to prioritise education, and in the case of emergency placements to secure suitable education within 20 school days.

The education of looked after children is the responsibility of local authority ‘Virtual School Heads’. Our engagement with them reveals frequent confusion about different application procedures to be understood and navigated. We were advised that children with Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs) usually suffer further setbacks because their applications must go via Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) teams and because schools take time to assess whether they can meet children’s needs.

The law gives looked after children absolute primacy within the admissions code. The grounds on which a school can refuse to accommodate a looked after child are almost non-existent, and either the Schools Admissions Adjudicator or Secretary of State can make directions if needed. Yet local authorities sometimes seem reticent to use these powers to ensure looked after children are attending good or outstanding schools.

The data confirmed that mid-year school moves were notably more common amongst those spending any time in an out of area placement. 43% of those[11] who had any time in an out of area placement during the two year period we looked at had a mid-year school move, compared to 31% of those who stayed locally: 5% (140 children) of this out of area group missed a term of school or more, compared to 2% of those staying in their home local authority.

The Children’s Commissioner would like to see more done to speed up education decisions and reduce time out of education. We have suggested that the role of Virtual School Heads is reviewed, including whether they should be given more power over education and placement decisions. There should also be attention to reducing the frequency of placement moves.

Another issue underlying this is the ability of children’s homes to serve notice on children. Currently CHs can serve notice on a placement immediately in an emergency, or by giving 28 days’ notice, which is often not enough time to find another suitable home for a child, nor prepare them for moving. This is one of the most common issues encountered by the Children’s Commissioner’s helpline, and the Children’s Commissioner believes more needs to be done to deter CHs giving notice unless this is genuinely in the child’s best interests. Emergency notice periods should be a much rarer event. At the moment there is little disincentive for homes to serve notice, because of the shortage of capacity nationally. Homes can serve notice on a child with very high needs because they can replace them with a child with lower needs. One child told us she felt like a parcel being passed around, like a game. We believe all emergency notice periods should need to be reported to Ofsted, and should be considered when inspectors grade a home.

Unsuitable interim education

Some young people we spoke to had home tuition as an interim solution, but this usually amounted to just a few hours, so was not equivalent to a full school day. This appears to be typical for children accessing tuition. While some students welcomed the one-to-one support, others felt stifled by learning and living under the same roof, and missed out on making friends. Our office is concerned about private tuition being seen as an adequate substitute for full-time education and the risk that having private tuition in place lessens the urgency of finding a school place.

Recent analysis by Ofsted[12] also found that around 9% of children in CHs attend unregulated educational provision such as tuition or ‘alternative provision including online schools’. These providers are not required to register with any educational body or undergo regulatory inspection, therefore the quality of what they offer is unknown and likely to be very varied.

Unsuitable longer-term education:

There is evidence that children in CHs are ending up in schools that are not as good as the ones attended by their peers, and that they are sometimes being enrolled in specialist schools unnecessarily. Ofsted research found that children in CHs were less likely to attend good or outstanding education provision than all children nationally, by 2 percentage points. They were 17% less likely to attend good or outstanding FES provision.[13] This is despite statutory guidance which directs LAs to prioritise high quality education for looked after children. Ofsted has speculated that this could be due to the uneven distribution of CHs across the countrypresumably meaning either that children are living in areas with limited or poor provision, or that high numbers of looked after children are being concentrated in certain areas, affecting how many children schools can feasibly admit.

Through qualitative research, our office has also learnt about children being in specialist schools when they do not appear to need or want this. For example, we heard from children attending schools run by their CH provider. The children told us that they were put in small classes alongside children of different ages and abilities because the school was so small – “what school mixes 11 year olds with 16 year olds?” one asked us. This was an unwelcome environment for a few young people who had been in mainstream school previously and who were used to big, busy schools with lots of opportunities to make friends. Virtual school heads have also told the Children’s Commissioner’s Office that they believe children are being placed in special schools attached to private CHs, even though they believe it would be in the best interests of the child to be in a mainstream state school.

It is important that school decisions are always based on the needs and preferences of the child, rather than because there is only one option on the table. Yet the Children’s Commissioner’s experience is that too often placements are found prior to education being considered. We believe education should be a primary consideration, and be established before a placement decision is made.

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

Children in CHs are more likely to have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Ofsted found that these children are 20 times more likely to be in special education than all children nationally. An issue we frequently encounter, both through our helpline and through our programme of visits, is the distances children are placed from their home areas, and how this impedes both contact with family and continuation of wider support. This includes complications in transferring services across areas and sharing information. This theme emerged again during our ‘Pass the Parcel’ research, when children told us they had lost their places on CAMHS waiting lists when they were moved into new areas. We know these problems persist across all types of support children receive, whether that be health, social care or education, and including ECHP assessments and reviews.

Although not relating to children in CHs, these case studies from our helpline give examples of how council disputes can affect children’s education. Although these examples relate to children in foster care, children in out of area CHs will face similar difficulties:

        Robert lives in foster care away from his home area. His education was not confirmed for 5 months because the responsible LA did not want to foot the bill for his specialist school. His responsible LA delayed agreements with the school and local SEND team on the grounds of cost. They tried to force the other LA to share education/health funding, despite clear guidance that they cover the costs alone.

        Frank was living in foster care and attending school away from his home LA. Frank was told he would have to move school because his responsible LA did not want to pay for a school in a different area. The LA decided that they would not continue paying for a school in another area and started looking for a cheaper school in their area. Help at Hand approached 3 LAs to keep Frank in his preferred school, resulting in his responsible LA backing down.

The use and appropriateness of unregulated provision

The current and previous Children’s Commissioners have made clear their opposition to the use of unregulated accommodation for children.

The Children’s Commissioner Office report ‘Unregulated’ sets out the reality of unregulated accommodation for many children.[14] Our research found that many extremely vulnerable children end up in unregulated settings which at best are not supportive enough, and at worse are actively harmful. Even for young people who do enjoy the level of independence offered by unregulated provision, we know that children’s needs can fluctuate over time and that children may feel more capable in some aspects of their lives than others, so making a single assessment of whether a child needs ‘support’ or ‘care’ is too simplistic, and too risky.

The current system also creates a perverse incentive to stop unregulated accommodation helping children when their needs fluctuate. The current regulations state that if a home provides ‘care’ it needs to be fully registered as a CH. If an unregulated setting provides this care, it is effectively an unregistered CH and is operating illegally. There is now a commitment to enabling Ofsted to intervene and take enforcement action if they suspect this is happening. This is helpful from a regulation perspective yet it does not respond to the underlying issue: that relatively independent children will at times need something more akin to care, and the system should move to recognise this, not require children to move to get this.

Work by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office looking at charitable and voluntary sector provision within the 16-18 ‘market’ has identified this regulatory contradiction as a primary reason for not entering the market. Many voluntary sector providers simply do not believe they can adequately and safely meet the needs of children within the current regulatory framework.

The overuse of unregulated provision is a consequence of both the shortage of CHs and the high cost of these placements, which incentivises LAs to find and justify cheaper options. If these factors can be addressed, there is the possibility of making decisions about where children live post-16 based on what on the best interests of the child, as the Children Act requires. It is the Children’s Commissioner’s position that the current plan to ban the use of these placements for under 16s, and introducing national standards, do not go far enough to protect children from being prepared for independence too early. In fact, it affirms the message that some children - who the state has deemed to be in need of care - do not actually need care.

Alongside this, better step-down support within CHs is desperately needed to prevent children being moved from homes directly to unregulated accommodation, thus suddenly having care taken away overnight and replaced by just support. This another very regular issue raised through our helpline. Of particular concern are cases where children are made to leave their homes once they make progress and become settled. This tends to happen if LAs and CHs cannot negotiate an agreement to step down support, and when other children with greater needs are seen to have a more pressing claim for the CH place. This practice serves to punish children who thrive and counterintuitively removes the supportive structure which has helped them, which can set them back all over again. If CHs built in greater flexibility, such as by having the ability to decrease supervision of children when needed and decrease the placement cost accordingly, this could solve a major problem within the system.

Criminalisation of children in children’s homes

The experience of the Children’s Commissioner’s Office is that criminalisation occurs when children encounter the police in situations where the police would never be involved if a child was living at home. These are all examples the Office has encountered (though some details have been changed for anonymisation purposes):


These examples are supported by wider research by the Howard League and others on the excessively high rates of criminalisation of children in CHs when compared with other children, including other children in care.[15] It is no coincidence that the proportion of children in the justice system who are known to children’s social care is high - over half (56%) of children in custody and receiving criminal sentences have a history of being in care, despite looked-after children making up only 1% of the total population.[16]


There have been some positive policy moves in the area, including the National Police Chief Council (NPCC) led best practice guidance on children missing from care which has sought to counter CH staff calling police unnecessarily when children go ‘missing’ (usually cases of children missing their curfews or staying out longer than they should rather than prolonged periods where their whereabouts is genuinely unknown). Actions they have taken such as seeking to plug gaps in CH staff knowledge and procedure are extremely important, however the structure of the CH ‘market’ leaves other aspects of this problem unaddressed.


The rise of out-of-area placements contributes to this problem by further disconnecting children from local safeguarding systems, and means that police are often very unaware of the backgrounds of looked after children living in their areas. The Children’s Commissioner would like to see clearer guidance from Government with regard to data sharing across services so that when police are called out, they arrive informed and can act with sensitivity. As part of this, children and the adults closest to them need greater control of the information shared about them, so that that these records reflect their lived experience, as far as possible. The Children’s Commissioner’s Office has worked with the NPCC to influence their policies around policing children, and to encourage a child right’s centred approach.


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


Since 2015 the population of children in care has risen by 10,000, to over 80,000 in 2020. This growth has led to an extra 41 children needing to be found a home each week.[17] To meet this demand, CHs are growing in number year-on-year – there was a 7% increase in the number of homes between March 2019 and 2020. However, the rise in the number of places has not kept pace with the number of homes – there was only a 1% increase in the number of places between 2019 and 2020. This has been a consistent trend over the past 5 years.[18]

Responsibility for the shortage of suitable, high-quality placements lies primarily with local authorities, who, under Section 22G of the Children Act 1989[19] are under a statutory responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure they are able to:

 provide the children [looked after by the local authority] with accommodation that—

(a) is within the authority's area; and

(b) meets the needs of those children.

The number of children placed out of area, in unregulated care and experiencing high placement instability, provides prima facie evidence that local authorities are not meeting this obligation, and children are suffering as a result.

While local authorities have been under significant financial pressure generally over the last decade – and specifically in regard to children’s services[20]the failure to invest in high-quality residential care is a serious failing. Children’s services should not just be seen as a revenue commitment. Local authorities have separate capital budgets and should be using these to ensure high-quality facilities are provided. The lack of new local authority provision over the last decade suggests a failure to prioritise looked after children, and corporate parenting generally, by the local authority in the allocation of capital funding.

In our report ‘the children who no one knows what to do with’[21] our office recommended that sufficiency for children in care needs to come from both expanding foster care and residential care. We recommended more small, flexible and local children’s homes which can keep children close to where they currently live and can adapt to a child’s needs so that children don’t need to move home frequently. This needs to be complemented with specialist secure and semi-secure homes with a very high level of clinical and therapeutic input for the children with the highest level of need, for short term stays.

One major advantage of children living in local CHs is proximity to family and friends. Local CHs allow children to see their families more, which children consistently tell us is incredibly important to them. Children in CHs out of area found that being apart from loved ones was one of the hardest things about their situation, and talked about the toll this isolation had on their mental health and wellbeing. Additionally, being local allows opportunities for positive contact and therapeutic work to be done with families, including vital family reunification interventions which could pave the way for children to return home. This is particularly important considering the number of children returning home after care has been declining in recent years[22]; a direction of travel which comes at great cost.

LAs that retain local CHs have also had more freedom to innovate. Oxfordshire, for example, has two CHs which care for children on a flexible shared care basis. Some children split their time between the CH and living with families, giving families a greater chance of staying together in the long-term while also improving stability for children because enough time has been given to testing the best arrangement for the child’s care.

However, there is a role for Central Government. The most acute shortage of care is for those children requiring a secure children’s home place. Here the Secretary of State has special responsibilities under Section 25 of the Children Act, and the cost of building new provision is extremely high, for what would be a very small number of children accommodated from any one local authority. Below this, there are a group of children with very complex needs that need highly specialised placements. This includes children self-harming, children at risk from criminal gangs and children with complex and violent behaviours. These children can require 24 hours close supervision by senior staff, backed up with a clinical team. Often these children also require on-site education. The cost of these placements tends to be £5,000-£10,000 per week.

Because of the large costs associated with running and establishing this provision, there are significant barriers to entry, which make provision prohibitively expensive for individual LAs or charities. Large private companies are able to dominate the market for this specialised care, partly because they have a larger footprint, so can share staff across multiple homes. Given that any one LA may only need one such placement in a year, there is the need for these homes to be planned over a larger area.

The Children’s Commissioner believes we need a national strategy around residential around residential care for children, which:

1)      Improves the commissioning of residential care, including better collaboration between local areas

2)      Addresses the particular shortages of care for children requiring highly specialist care or secure care

3)      Reduces the barriers to entry for local authorities or charities.

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

Our experience during the last 12 months has been that children’s homes have done very well at managing the Covid-19 crisis. Homes have generally stayed open (despite fears at the start many would have to close because of outbreaks) and have endeavoured to maintain some semblance of normality. In some cases this has meant whole staff teams isolating in an individual home and effectively staying on-shift for weeks on end. Their commitment should be recognised.

So too should the effect on children of a disrupted visits schedule. Children have shown great resilience in managing without seeing families and keyworkers in-person for months on end, especially during extended lockdowns, and making do virtual visits instead – a poor replacement.

The pandemic has, however, exposed how poorly understood children’s homes are within the wider system. Guidance has often treated children and adults’ social care the same because fundamental differences were not understood (this did not extend to recognising children’s homes for priority testing, supermarket access or vaccines). For example, at some stages of the pandemic CHs were told to operate bubbles within homes. This might be possible in a large home for old people, which may have hundreds of residents, but not in a children’s home which would typically accommodate about 3 children. When the Children’s Commissioner’s Office raised this with Public Health England it was clear these differences were simply not known or understood. Similarly, individual local homes have reported issues with their local public health teams in terms of treating one home as a bubble. Before widespread testing was available (and it took until October for children’s homes to be given explicit prioritisation), there were frequent issues with whole homes being “locked down” on false alarms.

We also have serious concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable families and the likely future impact of this. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic there were nearly 2.2 million children in England living in households affected by any of the so-called ‘toxic trio’ of family issues: domestic abuse, parental drug and/or alcohol dependency, and severe parental mental health issues. The last year, including multiple national and local lockdowns, has only made family circumstances more difficult. Addiction and higher-risk drinking has risen, major domestic abuse charities reported increases in calls, and psychiatrists issued stark warnings about declining parental mental health. Between April and September 2020, the number of child deaths and incidents of serious harm to children where abuse or neglect were suspected was 27% higher compared to the same period in 2019.[23]

Against the backdrop of these increased risks to children, many children became even more invisible to services with schools and other services running virtually, resulting in vulnerable children not being identified to children’s social care. The total number of referrals to children’s social care services between early May and late February is around 10% lower than an average of the same weeks during 2017-20. LAs are finding that when children are referred, cases are more complex, and families can be in acute crisis by this time.[24] This evidence together suggests that, as lockdown eases, there may be a wave of children coming to the attention of services who have been in harm’s way for far too long. If this happens, it would very likely increase pressure on the care system including the availability of CH placements.

Acting to improve sufficiency is only one part of the response needed. Alongside this, we would like to see resources focus on families destabilised by the pandemic, before problems within the home escalate to the point that care is needed. The Children’s Commissioner has been clear that children’s wider wellbeing, including their family environment, needs to be considered as part of a recovery package. 

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

Children in care frequently tell us that spending time with their families is extremely important to them. They have criticised the following in particular[25]:


Although maintaining contact with families is a core responsibility of social workers and CH staff, conversations with children confirm that it is not happening as it should. There has been some innovation to support long-lasting relationships for children in care, such as Lifelong Links[26], however it important that this type of work is not seen as an ‘optional extra’ which can be outsourced out. LAs need to get better at embedding this in their practice and giving this the same importance as other interventions to support children’s wellbeing and health.

April 2021










[10] Our analysis found that 16.7% of those placed in a children’s home at their first placement experienced 2 or more placement moves during 2018/19 (equivalent to 1,068 children). This is notably higher than for children in long-term fostering (5%) or other foster placements (10.8%). Source:

[11] Data relates to all children in care

[12] The education of children living in children's homes - GOV.UK (

[13] The education of children living in children's homes - GOV.UK (






[19] Children Act 1989 (

[20] Last year local authorities overspent in children’s services by more than £800m.