The characteristics of residential care

In 1979 official statistics for England (the figures for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are published separately) showed that there were approximately 95 000 children in substitute care (mainly foster care and residential care). By 1997 this figure had dropped to 51 000. Over these years the numbers in foster care stayed roughly constant at 33 000, while the numbers in residential care fell from 35 000 to roughly 6000. (3) The great bulk of residential care is directly provided by local authority social services departments, although roughly 800 young people are officially 'looked after' by the local authority but placed in homes run for profit.

These figures give, in some respects, a misleading impression of the numerical importance of homes. The turnover in them is quite rapid—roughly 60 per cent leave a home within 2 months of arrival and just under half the placements result from movements within the care system rather than the breakdown of community care.(4) A study carried out in the mid-1980s suggested that the number of placements in residential care equalled the number of placements in foster care, accounting for just over half the placements of adolescents.(5) These figures are now somewhat out of date. Nevertheless, on average, homes still see around three times the number of residents in a year than they accommodate at any one time.(4)

The basic characteristics of the local authority homes are well known. They are 'open' in the sense that the residents are expected to go out to school or work and are not restricted at other times. They are typically small, 40 per cent of them have six or fewer places and the average capacity is around nine. (6) The buildings are not markedly institutional, although identifiable to the practised eye, are usually built near to where the residents are likely to live, and aim to take local young people. Staff do not live in. Around one in five of the care staff have a recognized social work qualification, although the proportion is much higher for heads (83 per cent) and deputies (58 per cent).(7) Homes have more staff than residents. In 1996-1997 there were around 1.3 full-time care staff for every resident. In addition, there was roughly one manager or deputy manager for every three residents, and a further full-time member of staff (e.g. domestic staff) for every eight residents and a part-time member for every two.(6)

Children enter the British care system to be 'looked after' because of a temporary emergency (for instance, hospital admission of the carer) or because of abuse, very difficult behaviour on the child's part, or a breakdown of family relationships. The main characteristics that distinguish residents from other users of substitute care are as follows.

• Age: over 90 per cent of those who start their period of being 'looked after' in local authority homes are aged 10 or over and about 14 per cent are aged 16 or 17. By contrast, 60 per cent of those entering foster care are under 10 years of age and only 4 per cent are aged 16 or 17.

• Sex: the proportions of males and females in foster care are roughly equal, but nearly 60 per cent of those in residential care are male.

• Geographical location: some local authorities use residential care much more than others. In 1996 the proportions of 'looked after' adolescents in residential care varied from 3 per cent in one local authority to 40 per cent in another.

• Behaviour: children in residential care exhibit more difficult behaviour than foster children. (5,8) The differences are reflected in educational performance, ^l® measures of psychiatric ill health,(!!> delinquency/12 and the likelihood of being imprisoned as an adult.

A recent study(4) has described the characteristics of residents. Less than one in six had families where both natural parents were living together. Moreover, seven out of ten had been excluded from school or frequently truanted, six out of ten had at least some involvement in delinquency, and sizeable proportions (four out ten or more) had been violent to adults, violent to other children, run away from their own homes, run away from care, and put themselves or others at risk through sexual behaviour, and roughly one-third had attempted to commit suicide or harmed themselves. Around two-thirds entered 'care' for the first time as teenagers, generally because family relationships had broken down, and a further one-fifth entered because of abuse. They were unwilling to be fostered or seen as too difficult for this. The great majority had previous placements in foster care, residential care, or with relatives.

The role of the homes was to return some as soon as possible to their families, attempt to improve the behaviour of others or prepare them for independent living, and to keep a minority (around one-fifth) for the foreseeable future. Although there was some specialization, most homes attempted to fulfil all these roles and took all types of resident.

Funny Wiring Autism

Funny Wiring Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.

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