Sir: Your news item "Unregistered homes put children at risk" (22 August) setting out the Social Services Inspectorate's grave concerns about the use of small unregistered residential children's units, and the lack of systematic monitoring of the standards of care within such establishments by social service departments, highlights an area of great concern which the British Association of Social Workers has raised with the Department of Health during the past few months.
These units have been shown to receive some of our most abused, troubled and troubling young people in our society. They have often been placed far away from their home areas in desperation by departments who have run out of options for them. Residential care has been a neglected area of social work for many years; a vital service where substitute family care is no longer appropriate, it has had staff who are the least qualified and least well supported in a demanding and difficult task. This has been acknowledged by the Government in its Children in the Public Care report, produced following the Frank Beck revelations.
The Social Services Inspectorate has demonstrated that departments often do not know they are using these units, let alone being able to ensure proper standards of care in private establishments which are not registered or inspected. Thus, it is not possible for individual social workers to check units' credentials,especially if they are in another authority's area.
The British Association of Social Workers unanimously passed a motion in April 1995 calling for the Department of Health to include such units in social services registration and inspection schemes. While this Government has made it known that it is reluctant to regulate the activities of the private sector, it is vital that action is taken to protect the young people themselves, and for the sake of the public.
The writer is Chair of the British Association of Social Workers Criminal Justice Committee.