When young people transition from life in care to life out there, it is crucial that they receive the right accommodation and support. Done right, it can provide a strong foundation from which young people can begin to build their futures.
But recently the semi-independent living sector has found itself in the spotlight following press coverage showing the dire implications of poorly run services. In response, some voices are calling for Ofsted’s remit to be extended from care to also incorporate support placements.
We believe this is not necessary, and that young care leavers can be effectively protected using alternative quality assurance approaches already in use.
Look Ahead is a specialist supported housing provider. We have been working with young people across London and the South East for three decades, and running successful semi-independent living services for care leavers for more than three years.
During that time, we’ve witnessed growing anxiety about the fact that semi-independent living – or supported accommodation – for this group of young people is not regulated by Ofsted.
However, in July, then children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi argued that introducing full Ofsted regulation for supported accommodation for 16 to 17 year olds would be a “knee-jerk reaction”. Instead, he suggested that a new “licensing” system would be more appropriate.
Meanwhile, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said it would not advocate for total regulation, as it “would limit flexibility”.
While Look Ahead would welcome more intensive external regulation, we believe it is up to good providers to hold themselves to their own internally monitored standards, and – more importantly – for local authorities to have procurement processes that mean young people are only placed with those with strong values and stringent internal quality assurance systems.
Judging by what we’ve seen during our time providing accommodation and support to care leavers over the age of 16, the councils we work with are already a step ahead. More local authorities are introducing frameworks, and going through more careful tender and monitoring processes, with agreements made based on both quality as well as cost.
While waiting for the government to decide to introduce the licensing process mooted by Mr Zahawi, some local authorities, such as those in the West London Alliance, are taking matters into their own hands and setting up their own accreditation scheme for “unregulated” accommodation and support services.
This presents a third way, which ensures only those that have been accepted onto the scheme will secure placements, while enabling continued flexibility of services – and Look Ahead will be one of the first providers to sign up to it. ADCS was absolutely right when it stated that flexibility is crucial when supporting young people towards independence and successful lives. At Look Ahead, packages of support range between three and 17 hours per week, with support being stepped up and stepped down according to individuals’ needs.
We provide a safe place to call home, something many of the young people we work with may not have experienced before, while also preparing young people to thrive; to take responsibility and build successful, independent lives. Any regulatory system that somehow thwarted our ability to work with young people as individuals and to adapt our services as they outgrow them would be a leap in the wrong direction.
Services do not have to be inspected and regulated by Ofsted in order to be extremely professional and highly successful, and the local authority commissioners we work with have seen the value of placing care leavers with good providers. The ongoing debate around semi-independent living must catch up, and recognise that service standards vary massively.
Many local authorities already know this. And while they do not require their semi-independent living services to undergo formal regulation, they do need to take responsibility for the careful selection of service providers, with whom they can build strong relationships and continually hold to account.
To read the original article on the Local Government Chronicle, please read here.