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The Right Care: Children’s rights in residential care in Wales

Residential care settings, or children’s homes, have suffered over the years from a perception of being a ‘last resort’ for young people in care, potentially dangerous and extremely expensive. More recently, in England, it has become known that some young people living in children’s homes are targeted by abusers from organised gangs, furthering the perception of homes as risky environments. My own office was set up in 2001 after the Waterhouse Inquiry into abuse in children’s homes revealed the lack of an independent champion to look after the rights and interests of looked after children across Wales.

What we hear far less often are accounts of the everyday experiences of young people living in residential care. This includes young people who regard their children’s home as the place they want to be, with people who care for them. Many will be leading successful lives in their local communities, succeeding educationally, as volunteers and as members of community groups. Others may have more mixed experiences, face many challenges in their everyday lives and may wish they were living elsewhere.

In this report I present a wide variety of experiences, including the views of 34 young people living in children’s homes in Wales, plus those of carers and relevant professionals such as social services managers, police and health professionals. This report complements current research and analysis by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) and the Care Council for Wales who are examining information on children’s care pathways and workforce needs and experiences.

I hope to show that children’s homes have an important place in providing the right care for small numbers of young people in Wales. I also wish to highlight some real challenges that must be tackled. Firstly, some are reporting that they are not getting their full rights to receive information, be listened to and have their views taken into account when important decisions about their care are being made. This includes decisions about where they will live and contact arrangements with family. Secondly, there is the lack of preparation by local services when young people come to live in a home without proper planning, often from across the border
in England. Thirdly, there is the issue of criminalisation of young people for behaviours that would be managed differently in a family home. Lastly there is the stark contrast between the level of care and protection offered to these young people up to the age of 18, and that available to them as young adults leaving their children’s home.

By presenting their experiences I want to reinvigorate a national debate about the purpose of residential care placements and their place in the wider picture of local authority care. I make a small number of recommendations at the end of the report and look forward to discussing these with Welsh Government and those who commission, inspect and regulate children’s homes in Wales.