Finding placements for young people with complex needs can be hard

child holding a phone

Finding placements for young people with complex needs can be hard

Richard Fawcett knows that navigating the system can take its toll – on the young people, and the social workers involved.

If you’re up to date with current affairs in social work, you’ll be familiar with the debate around unregulated placements. In 2021 the government announced it would become illegal for children under 16 to be placed in unregulated children’s homes or supported living placements.

Since then, the High Court heard a legal challenge from the children’s rights charity Article 39 which believes this new law should extend to 16 and 17 year olds. In March, the High Court ruled in favour of the government and therefore it remains lawful for 16 and 17 year olds to be placed in unregulated, supported-living provision when they require ‘support’ rather than ‘care’.

This year, the independent review of children’s social care undertaken by Josh McAllister highlighted that rising numbers of children in care had resulted in increasing numbers of vulnerable 16 and 17 years being placed in unregulated supported living placements that were unsuited to their needs. He also identified the proliferation of private children’s home providers, the rising costs of these placements, competition for placements and increasing placement instability.

Finding suitable placements for older or more complex children and young people is incredibly difficult.

These reports have reiterated what many of us in practice have known for several years, namely that finding suitable placements for older or more complex children and young people is incredibly difficult. There are insufficient regulated placements and private providers will often have multiple referrals to consider. It is not surprising that they will be more likely to offer placements to the children who are likely to be the least challenging. These providers are registered and regulated by Ofsted and if they provide a placement for a very complex child there is a risk that this could affect their Ofsted grade. This means that some young people will spend considerable time in temporary, emergency or “crisis” placements before a more permanent home is found for them. This is not in their best interests and can also have an emotional impact on their social workers, who find themselves unable to provide the safety and stability they would like.

It’s clear that a comprehensive review of the way that we provide homes for children in care is needed. Until that happens, if you’re a social worker or manager needing a placement for a complex child, this insight from Richard Fawcett and Mary-Anne Hodd might just make the difference:

Don’t assume that nobody will come forward

With the right support package a lot of complex young people do live successfully with extended family members or even friends or other connected people. I recently reviewed a case where after eight months of emergency placements a young person was placed with his father in a different city. If this had been considered first, the young person would have been spared multiple moves and rejections. It’s important to begin the process of exploring extended family as early as possible.

“There’s no way around the fact that children and young people in care will have experienced significant adverse childhood experiences. And the process of being taken into care in itself is traumatic. When we rupture relationships, we fracture any sense of stability they’ve had at home or in care.” – Mary-Anne Hodd

Think about those children entering care without a placement

Many social workers will have experienced a young person sitting in the office reception until late into the evening because a placement cannot be found. Some children enter care without a placement. In some cases it may be less harmful to the young person for them to remain where they are with increased support until a suitable placement is found – so when making a decision about a child coming into care, factor in whether a suitable placement is available. Evidence suggests that these children will usually have several short term placements before a longer term one is found.

Be positive

Ensure that placement request forms do not focus only on negatives or challenges. If possible, include positive things about the child before the challenges. These forms are sent out to providers and we know that private providers will often have multiple referrals to consider. They will naturally be drawn to the least complex or challenging children therefore anything we can do to highlight the positives of our child might help.

“This means that sometimes, the young people who need the most support can end up in the worst environments because nobody else wants to deal with them. Those who have been most affected by adverse childhood experiences often end up in environments that have a negative impact. It’s easy to see people as their behaviours, to fail to take the impact of trauma and adversity into account, but that only further contributes to these poor outcomes.” – Mary-Anne Hodd

Keep the momentum going

When a child under 16 is placed in unregulated provision (sometimes referred to as a Z1 placement) it is highly likely that senior managers will be aware and require regular updates about what is happening in the placement and also about the search for a regulated placement. These placements do carry a lot of risk for the local authority.

It is likely that you will be asked to visit the placement more regularly and in these cases weekly meetings with the provider, the placement team, the IRO and other relevant people may help to keep a grip on the case and give senior managers the confidence that momentum is being maintained.

When a 16 or 17 year old is placed in unregulated supported living, be clear on whether they are receiving support or care. A simple example of this is are they being supported to do their own shopping and cook their own meals or is this being done for them? More importantly, if they are receiving support, is this right for them or should they really be in a placement that is providing care?

“All of the independent living skills that supported me made absolutely no difference when I was alone in my room by myself. It doesn’t help a young person feel wanted or cared about, or having somebody to talk to at three in the morning when you’ve been up all night because you can’t sleep, because you’re lonely.” – Mary-Anne Hodd

Bear in mind…

  • Where a placement may be needed for a complex child ensure that the placement commissioning team know as early as possible so that they can start a search even if it turns out later that the placement is not needed. They will always be grateful for this.
  • Keep in touch with the placements team while they are searching for a placement and seek regular updates.
  • If a placement offer is made then the placements team will want a decision from you or the team manager. It is really important that a decision is made immediately because it is common for providers to offer the placement to another local authority if they respond more quickly. Without exaggeration minutes can make a difference in these situations. Make sure that the placement team has your mobile number.  
  • When a child is placed with a private provider, keep in close contact with the home or the key worker. Placement providers are less likely to give notice when they feel supported by the placing local authority and have confidence in the child’s social worker.
  • Where a placement seems shaky, hold early disruption meetings and try to identify support to stabilise it. Supporting a fragile placement is much easier than finding a new one.

Richard Fawcett has been involved in children’s social care since the early ‘90s. Now an independent practitioner and consultant, he works in partnership with Equinox to deliver bespoke, sustainable solutions to its clients. 

Mary-Anne Hodd is care experienced, and spent over half her childhood in foster care. She is a qualified psychology teacher and uses her unique perspective to incite positive change and contribute to the continued changing narrative of ‘kids in care’.


Introducing Tara Clayton

tara clayton

Introducing Tara Clayton


Tara uses her highly specialised skillset and holistic approach to tackle the complex problems her clients face every day.

Tara Clayton has spent the last decade working with clients in the social care sector. 

During that time, she has seen significant changes, particularly around the  complex challenges her clients are facing – along with funding cuts, staff shortages and service rationing. 

Tara’s main focus has always been to understand her clients and develop high quality relationships with them and the people they employ. She has developed a deep understanding of the problems they face and has always been keen to do what she can to help.

Fundamentally, Tara has an unrivalled network within the sector. The newly qualified social workers she placed at the start of their career are now making hiring decisions of their own and asking her to source the candidates they need. She continues to open doors and keep a firm eye on operational delivery and its outcomes. 

“The beauty of Equinox is that we’re able to get things moving for our clients, and take a detailed, objective view of outcomes.”

Launching Equinox has given Tara the opportunity to really analyse what she can offer clients. She has spent time working on her highly specialised skillset and holistic approach to solving problems. Using Equinox as a springboard, Tara offers mid-level management consultancy combined with executive search and recruitment solutions. The model is malleable and designed to flex to fit each client’s requirements.  

“Day to day workforce requirements can fluctuate frequently, and because of the pressures they face, social workers can be at risk of burnout,” says Tara. “As essential frontline workers, they’re obviously committed, but demand is only increasing, and inevitably some teams are facing massive backlogs.”

“Using Equinox allows our clients to take a breath and get things moving again,” Tara continues.  “We deliver solutions that allow us to resolve recruitment issues and workload problems.”

“More importantly, we’re in it for the long run. I’ve been working in this sector for 10 years. Yes, we want to come in and have an immediate impact, but we’re also determined that the positives will survive long after we’ve finished.”

Refresh your retention strategy today

two women talking

Refresh your retention strategy today

And give your ‘employee experience’ a boost.

In a candidate-short sector like social care, employers are realising they need to become more focused on the experience of their employees, and the impact it can have on their retention figures.  

The last few years have had a profound impact on the way we’re all working. Teams have worked out that hybrid working can succeed, and that we don’t have to ‘meet in person during a meeting. Employers are now considering how  to maintain positivity and support worker.

One thing is really clear: improving employee experience helps employers attract talent and retain essential expertise.

With this in mind, we’ve highlighted five points which any employer should consider if they’re aiming for a healthier, happier culture:

1. Be flexible and imaginative

Workers tell us that while pay is important, it is not the only incentive, and this is a trend that gathered pace over the past few years. Work/life balance is at the forefront of many minds and we’re regularly being asked about the flexibility of roles and whether they could be adapted to an applicant’s unique requirements. Looking ahead, the most successful employer/employee relationships will include an element of flexibility, and involve roles that accommodate a valued worker’s specific needs.

2. Review the benefits on offer

Take a holistic view of what you offer your employees. Fortunately, we know money isn’t everything, so think about what you have in your toolkit to entice your people to stay, and become more engaged. What about secondments? They can be a persuasive alternative to resignation and give you, and your staff member the reassurance that the relationship is valued, worthwhile and ongoing.

3. Highlight growth opportunities

The best managers go out of their way to help their team members engage with the work they enjoy most, but it doesn’t always involved a hands-off approach. Creating growth opportunities within an existing role will provide stretch, and allow individuals to take pride in their accomplishments and think about the next step. They will also feel that their potential has been seen and is valued.

4.  Track career progression

How many of your employees progress internally? Is your career development programme clear and transparent – and does it actually work? Carrying out a career progression audit will show if people are moving as you think they should. Growing your own talent is cost efficient and rewarding for employees.  They’re likely to stay longer, and increase their engagement in current and future roles.

5.  Don’t forget to ask why

There’s something liberating about having decided to leave a role. This means that the information you get during an exit interview can be gold dust. It should allow you to assess employee experience and identify opportunities to improve retention and engagement. Better still, why not schedule a ‘stay’ interview? Use this as an opportunity to review what motivated them from the beginning: why did they join in the first place? What were they hoping to achieve? Examining what has changed and what it would take to keep them can be a really valuable exercise. 

Equinox consultants understand the challenges the social care sector faces. The quality of provision is as important as ever, but the need to achieve cost efficiencies continues to grow.

We take a holistic, output-led approach that allows us to resolve recruitment issues and workload problems, and provide organisational solutions to increase productivity and create long-lasting, positive change.

And we're here to help.

Hourglass is part of Pertemps Education and focuses on permanent roles, overseas candidates and leadership. Pertemps Education provides schools with agile, energetic and reliable temporary teachers and support staff. When you register with us, we may suggest you speak to a Pertemps Education consultant.

Presenting a case to an agency decision maker

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Presenting a case to an agency decision maker

Richard Fawcett has been an agency decision maker for adoption and fostering for over 10 years.

Most children’s social workers will eventually have to present a case for adoption to the agency decision maker. In my experience it’s something that people can find challenging, and even daunting at times.

If this is your first case, you’ll be relieved to hear that there’s lots of support available to you.  Whether you access help via the adoption service, or from your more experienced colleagues, there’s no need for you to feel alone in the preparation phase.

What’s the agency decision maker’s role?

The agency decision maker (ADM) is responsible for deciding whether a child’s final Care Plan should be for adoption. They may be take advice from experienced colleagues from the adoption service and the local authority’s legal team, but the decision is theirs alone.  

On one hand, this is great because the ADM can reach an outcome and inform you in the meeting. The decision and the ADM’s rationale will be recorded in detailed minutes and the court may wish to refer to these later. Effective ADMs will also refer to the Welfare Checklist and will add a case note to child’s record which will then form part of the chronology.

On the other hand, if you fail to make a convincing case, it may result in delays. It’s important to bear this in mind throughout, and make sure you provide the ADM with the information they need. The better informed they are, the fewer questions they will have.

Preparing your case

In most Local Authorities the ADM will want to meet with the child’s social worker (and probably the team manager as well) in a meeting that might be referred to as ADM or SHOBPA – should be placed for adoption.

The decision making meeting with the ADM will usually happen further down the line. All assessments will need to have been completed and written up – it should be just before the filing of final evidence. Social workers will need to send a bundle of documents to whoever coordinates the ADM process and include the Child Permanence Report (CPR), all assessments including those relating to extended family, and reports relating to drug and alcohol tests, etc. The ADM needs to see everything that has been done before making a decision. They will also want to know that the child’s independent reviewing officer supports the case.

All this documentation needs to be submitted by the deadline so that the ADM has enough time to read and understand the information before the meeting. Some ADMs may contact the social worker or team manager before the meeting if they have any specific questions or observations and this can be quite helpful.

Things to remember:

The CPR is key

The Child’s Permanence Report (CPR) should cover everything that an Agency Decision Maker needs to know about a child and the case for adoption. Crucially, it should be written with prospective adopters in mind. It will be the first they hear of the child, and it will hopefully be kept to share with the child when they are older.

First impressions count

The child’s photo is really important. Adopters will have many children to consider so anything you can do to make your child stand out will help. If you haven’t got a good photo, check with foster carers – they will have many more chances than you to get a really nice one.

Know your child!

If you’re new to a case, remember that foster carers will know the child better than anyone – don’t hesitate to ask them for help. Bringing the child to life in the CPR and for the ADM will really help. Even for tiny babies, if you can say what’s their favourite food, which toys do they like, whether they like bath-time, etc.

Family first

As a social worker, you should be proactive in your efforts to track down and talk to family members who could care for the child. Make sure you keep track of this process as you’ll need to back up the  conclusions you come to.

Dot the Is and cross the Ts

If you’re responsible for the CPR, you’ll have spent time and energy on pulling the information together. Ask someone with a fresh pair of eyes to proof read it for you. Your manager may need to approve the document, and spelling mistakes never make a good impression. Believe it or not, I’ve also seen examples where social workers have re-used a CPR written by a colleague – and failed to include the correct child’s name. Definitely not the approach you’re aiming for!

Richard Fawcett has been involved in children’s social care since the early ‘90s. Now director of practice at Equinox, he’s delighted to have the opportunity to get to know practitioners and services across the country and to support them as they deliver an outstanding service to the children they’re working with. 

Equinox teams make a real difference for children and young people

team meeting

Equinox teams make a real difference for children and young people

Our social workers are improving the quality of social work practice.

We’ve been working with a particular local authority since senior managers recognised high caseloads had been leading to unavoidable drift and delay. Equinox was asked to provide a specialist court team in summer 2021.

Embedded in the authority, Equinox social workers have been improving the quality of social work practice.

We’re delighted to be able to say that court procedures are now being progressed more effectively and children are receiving a better service.

Inspectors have acknowledged the positive impact of this service on practice. They highlighted reduced caseloads, reflective supervision and more purposeful and effective practice.

Most importantly, these changes mean that the significant drift and delay in that area is being addressed.

The local authority has recently gone out of its way to thank our team for achieving permanence for its children and for being part of its improvement journey.

Why Equinox?

team meeting

Why Equinox?

Equinox was founded in direct response to the challenges our clients face.

The quality of social care provision remains as important as ever, but the need to achieve cost efficiencies continues to grow. As a result, we offer cost-effective mid-level management consultancy combined with executive search and recruitment solutions.

We are able to open doors and keep a firm eye on outcomes. It’s a holistic, output-led strategy that allows us to resolve recruitment issues and workload problems, and provide organisational solutions to increase productivity and create efficiencies.

Delivering meaningful solutions

Equinox consultants have built their careers providing consultancy and recruitment solutions to the public sector and the NHS. They know that sustainable change is a priority for many of our clients. This means we add value from the very start of a relationship, helping to define and shape a strategy for solutions, manage milestones, and achieve efficient, timely and long-lasting outcomes.

Whether clients are considering large scale reorganisation or require standalone teams of agile, experienced professionals to support existing adults or children’s services, they will have access to our experience and skills and can rely on Equinox to be a trusted improvement partner.

Adult services

  • Diagnostics: Equinox’ senior lead will coordinate an objective assessment of each service.
  • ‘Right-size’ packages of care: A dedicated Equinox team will evaluate care and support plans.
  • A lasting legacy: We work with existing staff to assess productivity and conduct training needs analysis. Bringing a private sector approach, we capture real-time output and ensure improvements will continue after the conclusion of the work.

Children’s services

  • Assessment backlogs: Many of our partners have RAG rated their families, and those marked amber are becoming urgent. A team of Equinox specialists will manage this process. They will ensure statutory guidelines are met and ease the pressures felt by existing staff.
  • Discharge of care orders: Our specialist social workers review children’s care orders to check the care order is still fit for purpose and reassess the child’s placement.
  • Unallocated cases: Our experts will review these cases, prioritise the children most in need of support and intervention, and ensure that they can be moved through the system.
  • Domestic violence hub: An unfortunate consequence of lockdown is an increase in multiple complex domestic violence referrals. We can provide a dedicated taskforce to focus on referrals.


Contact Tara Clayton now to find out how Equinox can help you.

And we're here to help.

Contact Tara Clayton now to find out how Equinox can help you.

Why listen to your employees?

group of people talking

Why listen to your employees?

With a highly invested, committed workforce, why do social care employers struggle to retain their valued staff?

The social care workforce is made up of highly skilled, responsible individuals who are serious about their careers, and committed to the people they support.

Why, then, do employers struggle to retain their valued staff?

There are an infinite number of reasons behind an employee’s decision to move on, but when we recently asked social workers what made them unhappy at work, a recurring theme was lack of control.

The desire to make changes at an organisational level.

For some, that meant they were anxious about their workload. “I don’t feel I will be able to do this role long term as I would become overwhelmed,” one respondent said. “But I won’t leave yet as I’d like to make change at an organisational level to provide better outcomes for the children in my local area”.

For others, the sense of impotence was focused on the sense that they were not being listened to. Yes, they felt that their professionalism was valued by their employer, but not enough to allow them to have a say in how the organisation evolves. One respondent spoke for many when they said: “Changes take place with minimal consultation with staff about how it will affect us.”

Good social workers are good communicators

Researchers have often shown the valuable relationship between employee engagement and positive outputs. Within social work, the nature of the profession means this is a hugely powerful dynamic. We know that good social workers are good communicators, and the best leaders should not only exploit that characteristic of their workforce, but do them the favour of actively listening and being fully present.

Depth and breadth

Listening properly to employees will give senior leaders the opportunity to tap in to the depth and breadth of their experience. Starting the conversation with ‘help us shape our organisation’ or ‘let’s design the future’ underlines the value an employer places on collaboration and emphasises their shared objectives.

Listening to your workforce so that you understand and empathise with them – and following up with action that proves it – will strengthen relationships and improve links throughout the organisation.

At Equinox, we carry out workforce analysis online and in person because it provides invaluable, real-time feedback on the ways workers view the sector and their role within it. We are able to flag national trends, drill down to local detail, and shape the advice we give our clients accordingly.

Sustainable recruiting

team meeting

Sustainable Recruiting

Over the past decades qualified social workers have been in great demand, and their skills have become increasingly sought after.

At Equinox, we offer specialist consultancy based on really incisive human capital management.

By establishing the best possible workforce, keeping a close eye on agency/permanent staffing dynamics and optimising valued staff retention, we help our clients to stabilise and establish long-lasting outcome-led improvements to the service they provide.

Proactive sector mapping

We make sure our candidate pipeline starts before a social worker’s professional career begins. Tara Clayton, Regional Business Manager at Equinox spends much of her time talking to social workers at all stages of their development. Keeping close contact with the widest range of professions has proven to be a key element of our sustainable delivery model and the newly qualified social workers Tara placed at the start of their career are now making hiring decisions of their own.

Candidate pipeline to talent pool

Our candidate pipeline is not simply a pile of CVs. Instead, it’s a living, breathing resource that we nurture and sustain. Essentially, it’s a community of highly sought-after and talented individuals, and it’s our job to get to know them and engage with them.

Knowing who will respond well to which opportunity is the key to recruitment, and Equinox consultants pride themselves in immersing themselves in the sector, getting to know each client so they effectively represent them when speaking to candidates.

Our pipeline is a living, breathing resource that we nurture and sustain

We’re 100% committed to a sustainable source of supply – for the present and the future. We pride ourselves on being close to the workforce, understanding trends and adapting to market pressures. That’s crucial, of course, as our pipeline is there to ensure we can supply our clients with the skills and experience they need.

Letting Equinox create a talent pool on your behalf will mean you have access to workers at all levels. We can also provide team leaders with groups of staff ready to mobilise – all with a shared objective and able to provide support to your existing workforce.