Homes campaign 'too little, too late'

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The Independent Online
The Government was accused of doing "too little too late" to reform Britain's children's homes yesterday, as plans emerged of a campaign to give them a more positive image.

The campaign will be launched officially next month as Children's Homes Week by John Bowis, Health minister. It will focus on removing the stigma of growing up in care, and improving the status of staff.

According to the Department of Health, the campaign was inspired by the report into the running of Britain's children's homes four years ago by Norman Warner, former director of Kent Social Services. It followed the Leicestershire scandal in which Frank Beck was given five life sentences for sexual abuse in four homes.

But Mr Warner, who exposed the dismal status of homes and the lack of specialised training for workers, has criticised the Government for not backing the campaign with action.

He said: "It's better late than never, but it's no good having a campaign unless you address the points we set out in that report ... Having a campaign without the substance of better training in my view is a waste of time.

"I still think they should also have set up a watchdog body, as the report recommended. The problem is that this sector fades from recognition, and there needs to be a group guiding the Government into action."

The image of homes has been battered by a series of scandals, including the sexual and physical abuse of hundreds of children in care. An Independent campaign has highlighted loopholes in the system which have allowed paedophiles to target homes. Ministers are examining ways of making children more secure by introducing a register of convicted paedophiles and creating a professional body with disciplinary powers to regulate staff in homes.

The Department of Health denied yesterday that the campaign, which has the motto "Just like you", was a window-dressing exercise. It will focus on the achievements of children who have succeeded in life, despite prejudice against them.

Paul Robertson, director of the National Leaving Care Advisory Service which is co- ordinating the campaign, said: "We're trying to say to young people you can come through care and make it. These are young people being left with a massive stigma."