Reflections from Georgia Macqueen Black, Programme Lead for Social Care at the National Children’s Bureau

Introducing my role  

As the Programme Lead for Social Care at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), I manage the delivery of our national programmes in relation to social care policy and practice. My background as a children and families social worker means I have direct experience of working with complex, multiagency systems while advocating for the best interests of children and young people. When I left frontline social work to work in policy and public affairs at a national children’s charity, this experience enabled me to understand how visions for national change might connect or conflict with what happens in practice.  
 
At NCB, one of the most fulfilling parts of my job is helping to develop the skills and knowledge of the social care sector so that they are in a better position to understand the implications of some of the Government’s most significant reforms and their impact on children and young people. This includes the NCB’s Sector Awareness and Provider Preparedness programme, in relation to the quality standards, registration and regulation regime for supported accommodation for young people aged 16 and 17 who are in and leaving care. Appointed by the Department for Education, NCB offers authoritative guidance and reliable support for local authorities and providers. Working alongside the Department for Education and Ofsted has enabled us to ensure our free training, workshops and resources are informed by the most up-to-date information and relevant sector intelligence about the requirements of the quality standards and registration process.   

Helping the supported accommodation sector to focus on the best possible outcomes for young people  

I am proud to have played a role in engaging over 1,000 providers and 120 local authorities in our support offer. It has been fantastic to see how our communities of practice have facilitated peer support and learning and enabled individuals to work together, to understand how the administrative requirements of the regulations underpin and relate to tangible improvements to practice with young people in care and care leavers.  I better understand the makeup of this diverse sector from a different vantage point, and the scope of our engagement means we can respond to what providers and local authorities have told us they need to provide robust and nurturing support to young people.  

At the heart of our work are the young people, and their voices and experiences must underpin our efforts to strengthen supported accommodation. Every young person living in supported accommodation should be supported to reach the best possible outcomes through a concerted effort by all agencies and services to understand their histories, needs, and aspirations.  

What do we know? 

For many providers, applying to register with Ofsted has allowed them to better understand the processes, policies, and professional expertise that helps to ensure that every young person living in their accommodation is supported to prepare for independence in a safe, nurturing environment. However, registering with Ofsted with limited staff capacity while continuing to provide services for young people, along with managing the recruitment or identification of skilled and experienced Registered Service Managers, or navigating delays while acquiring DBS certificates, means registration is not guaranteed to be a straightforward process. In the face of these challenges for some providers, I understand how crucial communication and information sharing is to ensure that the supported accommodation sector is able to continue on an improvement journey to deliver the new quality standards for young people in care. This means providing assurance about regulation at the right pace and sharing a consistent message to improve the quality of applications and confidence levels in preparing for interviews and site visits, so that providers can focus on being ambitious for young people and supporting them to achieve their goals as they prepare for independence.  

What are the wider challenges? 

As we mark an important milestone in the Government’s supported accommodation reform programme, I am conscious of the ongoing challenges faced by the children’s social care sector. Local authorities are struggling with the burden of stretched budgets, as they pay for the high costs of homes for young people with complex needs who require higher levels of care. There is an urgent need to address the ongoing crisis in placement sufficiency for our most vulnerable young people, and the regulation of supported accommodation has shed light on the risk that some young people are living in settings that function as unregistered children’s homes.  

While the National Children’s Bureau is committed to working with providers to offer a nurturing and protective environment for those young people who can be supported to develop their independence, supported accommodation is not automatically the right choice for looked-after young people.  

The impetus now, after the end of the initial registration window for existing providers, is to work with local authorities and Ofsted to ensure that no young person moves unnecessarily while incomplete applications are processed, while staying alert to the systemic challenges with sufficiency and sharing evidence gathered through our programme with Ofsted and the Department of Education.  

What comes next? 

Looking ahead, we will provide targeted support that reflects the needs of distinct groups, whether supporting new providers to register, or preparing for inspection, or enabling Registered Service Managers to meet their leadership responsibilities. We are committed to providing answers to those stickier areas of the Regulations and will publish an updated FAQ resource about the next stages of the registration process and inspections. We will work closely with local authorities to help align their existing quality assurance processes to the Regulations and explore the possibilities for more regional approaches, to ensure consistency for providers commissioned by different local authorities. We also want to grow our understanding of the skills of the supported accommodation workforce, to help us provide the right support for a diverse sector and enable providers to demonstrate their rationale for their practice.  

Supporting young people to prepare for the transition to adulthood is a process that we must get right, with emotional and practical support and understanding from every agency involved in the young person’s journey to independence. The next stage of the Sector Awareness and Provider Preparedness programme will continue to strive to strengthen supported accommodation’s place in this system of support. 

 

To find out more about the programme; the opportunities to be involved in the next stages of development and delivery; and to be kept up to date on our activity and what we are learning please sign up here.

 

If you are a Local Authority Commissioner or a Provider seeking to find out more about the support and resources available through the programme you can join our online communities of practice here.