In response to the Joint Report by the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Runaway and Missing Children and for Looked After Children and Care Leavers.

This Report is an important communication and deserves careful reading, discussion and action. Yet, again in the media and not least on the Today programme on Radio 4, the full tenor and detail of their communication did not get through. Instead once more the focus was entirely upon the important and lamentable failures in the provision of some residential care  and in keeping children safe from harm. Of course the report and the radio coverage of 18 June 2012 are justifiably scathing about the uncaring treatment and disregard endured by some “residents”, including the failure to protect and the inappropriateness of the placements of no small number so far from home. Those of us experienced in and knowledgeable about quality residential provision, and aware of its need and value when provided and supported well, do not and will never speak up for poor and dangerous provision.

Nevertheless, to date the overall media coverage of this subject, as in this case, results, however unintentionally, in a standardised dismissal of all residential care. And once again the entire sector becomes tarnished in the public mind due to the very broad brush of condemnation used. This is not only unfair to those providers of high quality residential care, not least in specialist settings for children and young people with very serious emotional and psychological difficulties born of their previous ill treatment, often at home. It is also unjust to the populations of children and young people themselves who desperately need a reliable environment that can keep them safe and meet their deep needs for care and treatment. There is without any doubt a population who are both unable to live healthily with themselves or others and incapable of managing to live and grow in a family setting, or even a residential setting near to their “home base”. They need an appropriate physical distance “regulation”  in order to support the social, emotional and psychological  work they must do. For some of these the family or local living might well be something they strongly seek/demand; it can also be for them the very conditions they most deeply fear and/or fight against once secured. Careful assessment and high quality alternatives must be available so wise decisions in their interests will be made.

We do not suggest the Report ignores this complexity or even the nuances for understanding how best to match often complex needs to provision. What we regret and demand ceases is the tendency from any direction in discussions, debates and planning  - while seeking to make the case against the failures by some residential providers and their local authority purchasers - to reduce serious  issues to the simplistic and judgemental level of damning the whole of a type of provision, residential care in this case. This is especially so when the provision  is much needed in its high quality, well thought out and supported form.

We also  noted with no small degrees of dismay and irony that on 18 June in the Today programme preceding and following the coverage of this Report – and with no apparent sense of the actual or potential connections between the two subjects -  there was coverage of a Report on the gross failure of government to provide for the mental health needs of the public, young or old. This policy and political dimension likely has a not small influence itself upon how residential care for many children and young people is thought about and secured, or not as the case can be. It has long been acknowledged that children's mental health is their emotional health. Joined up and non - “cost dominated”  approaches to making provision for vulnerable children and young people will do much to more reliably ensure their safety and healthy change and growth.

Richard Rollinson
Planned Environment Therapy Trust
18 June 2012