Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bring back the Orphanages!

It doesn’t exactly sound like a rallying cry, not in the wake of the abuse scandals, the way that some children were institutionalised and talk to any social worker and they’ll tell you that ‘residential’ is usually full of badly paid, unqualified staff, working unsocial hours.

Phil Frampton’s ‘Insider’ documentary for Channel 4 on Thursday night painted a different picture, his foster placements broke down and he was brought up in a Barnardo’s home in Southport. It wasn’t always clean, he was on occasions beaten and humiliated but he did get to university, along with other children from the home. Siblings stayed together and ‘everyone looked after each other’.

In the last thirty years the numbers in children’s homes has gone down from 25,000 to only 5,000, most placements are now with foster parents - in a ‘family environment’. However, although payments have increased there is a shortage of foster parents, which means that children can be shunted around a succession of short-term placements. One child had had 58 different foster placements, another had to travel one and a half hours to get to school.

There are many excellent, caring, foster parents but there are cases where they are given minimal training and support. A high percentage of placements break down. And as for the ‘family environment’ siblings are often split up with terrible consequences for the children’s mental health. Also it’s not unheard of for foster parents to go on holiday and not take the children they are fostering.

The German ‘Kinderhaus’ system places children in large houses with well-qualified staff, but due to the economies of scale it costs £20,000 per child as opposed to £30,000 in Britain. In Denmark a very high percentage of children in care go on to higher education.

We spend over £1 billion on the care system yet something like a third of homeless people and a high proportion of prison inmates have been through the care system. A higher proportion are in prison than university. It costs about £40,000 a year to incarcerate someone, surely it would be better to spend it on a world class care system – including some well equipped ‘orphanages’ staffed by well qualified professionals?

Phil Frampton's book - The Golly in the Cupboard

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