Following the Care Inquiry, Government of Jersey Reviews its Children’s Homes

But concerns remain over the Independent Children’s Homes Association appointed to conduct it

Ollie Taylor
Nine by Five Media



On the 29th of July, the Jersey government announced in a press release that it had invited the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA) to review the Island’s residential children’s homes. Its Chief Executive, Peter Sandiford, said he very much welcomed the opportunity to share knowledge and understanding of residential childcare with Jersey to “jointly further develop their current services”.

Children’s Minister Senator Sam Mézec stated that he looked forward to welcoming the ICHA as part of the “commitment to ensuring that our service for children meet the highest standards” and that the decision to engage the ICHA is in-keeping with the intention to “continue to improve services, with the help of independent experts, with no direct involvement in the delivery of care or support to children and young people in Jersey”.

Starting in August, the ICHA is visiting all the individual children’s homes in Jersey to provide recommendations to the government. The ICHA describes itself as the “voice of independent providers of registered children’s homes in England” with a “rapidly increasing membership” of over 195 members covering over 3,912 beds for children and young people across 1,118 homes representing almost 75% of the private and voluntary sector.

Despite their obvious credentials in the childcare sector, there are a number of concerns over their appointment. A recent FOI has revealed that, despite being undertaken in accordance with the Government of Jersey’s “procurement best practice procedures”, the standard tender process was not followed and a formal exemption was requested and approved to deviate from undertaking the usual competition process.

The Jersey government’s Director of Safeguarding and Care, Mark Owers, has also previously worked with the current CEO of the ICHA, Peter Sandiford. According to the FoI response, they were both members of the Adoption Leadership Board for England and the Adoption Expert Group that advised the Government.

Mr Sandiford also chaired the Consortium of Adoption Support Agencies when they engaged Owers to review their constitution and when Mr Sandiford was the CEO of PAC UK, the largest not-for-profit Adoption Support Agency in England, they contracted Owers to work with the Board of Trustees. PAC UK was also a member of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies while Mr Owers was chief executive there.

Crucially, the ICHA has no history of ever conducting such a review before. As the FoI further confirms, people with care experience were also not involved in setting the specification for the review or in selecting the provider. The ICHA’s primary responsibility is to its members and openly states on its website that part of its role involves “Political lobbying so that the voice of the sector is heard” a sector that has become privatised and profit-driven.

In the 1990s the majority of children’s homes were in the public sector but following a government drive to outsource a range of services, as much as 80% are now in the private or voluntary sector with, according to recent Ofsted figures, just two companies now accounting for one-third of all independent fostering placements leading to some big investment players entering the market.

In 2018, one of the biggest foster carers, Foster Care Associates, was bought by private equity firm CapInvest for an undisclosed sum, while last year Partnerships in Children’s Services was sold by its private equity owner Sovereign Capital Partners to rival provider Core Assets Group for around £100m.

A Financial Times article also reported last year that the number of foster children living with carers registered to private providers grew 5 per cent between 2012 and 2016 compared with just a 1 per cent rise with children looked after by council registered carers, describing fostering companies as “essentially recruitment businesses”, receiving a fee from local authorities just half of which goes to the carer.

Like with other industries, the initial belief that outsourcing to the private sector would be better value for money is now proving to be a false one. A BBC article in February this year highlighted that a Local Government Association found six out of the 10 largest providers of children’s homes and foster carers have run up huge debts via loans but at the same time the six largest independent companies made £215m profit in 2019, with some making more than 20% profit on their income.

In the same article the ICHA’s chief executive, Mr Sandiford, defended the private sector stating that the report doesn’t look at the value for money or quality of care provided by many independent care companies. However, a 2018 UK government-commissioned report involving none other than Mr Owers found that the average weekly cost to local authorities of foster care placements was £823 compared to a cost of £553 for those provided directly by a local authority.

Along with escalating debts and costs, the growth in private-sector care has also meant councils being unable to find suitable places for vulnerable children, leading to them being located further away from their families and familiar neighbourhoods as well as moved more regularly creating a childhood of instability which has led to some councils making the decision to reopen their own children’s homes.

Like the housing market before 2008, there are significant risks in having an increasingly concentrated market of private companies and equity-backed childcare providers chasing debt-fuelled growth and it will be the vulnerable children in care that once again suffer the greatest with the ICHA, by its very purpose, representing these market players creating such risk.

Martin Barrow, a local authority foster carer and journalist critically described the appointment of the ICHA by the Jersey government on Twitter as like a “fox in the henhouse” stating: “the ICHA exists to increase its members’ profits. This is all it does. On the other hand, its biggest members are private equity firms based offshore in tax havens like Jersey. Hence the invitation, I guess.

Jersey Cares, a local independent organisation that advocates for the views, rights and entitlements of people with care experience and are looking for people to get in touch with their views on this issue, was contacted and gave the following statement:

“The Government of Jersey has recently laid out their commitment to provide ‘safe, stable loving homes’ for children in care, to ‘enable them to flourish’. This is a bold and progressive decision which could place Jersey as world leaders in how children in care experience childhood.

We question whether the decision to appoint the Independent Children’s Home Association to carry out this review fulfils these intentions. The Government states that the ICHA is ‘best in class’. We ask ‘for whose primary benefit?’ And whether its vision aligns with that of ‘safe, stable loving homes’ and query its independence both from providers and Government.”

There’s no doubt that the ICHA has a wealth of experience and expertise to draw from and fully understands the child care industry it represents but it is an industry that has become heavily financialised and appears deep in crisis. Following the Independent Care Inquiry, the Jersey Government is no doubt genuine in its priority to “Put Children First”, but part of that must be remembering the most important voice of all: the young with experience of our care system. We cannot fail them again.



Ollie Taylor
Nine by Five Media

Jersey (UK) Evening Post columnist and founder of Nine by Five Media. Always looking for the local angle. Views are all mine and not that of any employer.