Briefing - the experiences and progress of children in care

What Ofsted says:

“High-quality edge of care services are contributing to children remaining in the family home wherever possible and whenever it is in the child’s best interests. This is preventing children from entering care unnecessarily and maintains a level of stability in their living arrangements.  

“Children are not left in situations of unmanageable risk, and decisions for children to become looked-after are based on clear assessments of their needs and are appropriate and timely… Adoption is appropriately considered and inspectors saw good… effective early permanence planning facilitating matches with adoptive carers at the earliest opportunity…

“Inspectors saw authoritative evidence-based practice (in the No Wrong Door project) that is effecting real change and reducing risks associated with exploitation, offending and substance misuse.  Workers are persistent in their interventions, which proceed at a pace that is right for the child, building on their self-esteem and areas in which they can achieve...”

Read more below.

North Yorkshire County Council’s No Wrong Door programme radically rethinks care provision for young people.

No Wrong Door was introduced just over three years ago to replace traditional council-run care homes. Instead, two hubs cover the county and combine residential care and fostering with on-site support from clinical psychologists who act as life coaches, from speech and language therapists and a supportive police role. 

Each hub includes residential care home beds; emergency residential beds; community foster family placements; supported accommodation and supported lodgings and outreach support.  

The service has proved highly effective in breaking the traditional cycle of young people who enter care in their teenage years following a path of multiple fostering placements, insufficiently planned periods in residential care and placement breakdown and  who go on to engage in offending and risk-taking behaviour.

The Government has recently backed a recommendation that No Wrong Door is rolled out to other authorities. Sir Martin Narey, former director general of prisons for England and Wales and former chief executive of Barnardos, has said that the programme stands out for the ambition, innovation and high expectation in the support it offers to the most troubled and challenging young people.

No Wrong Door received the prize for Impact and Learning in Children’s Services at the annual MJ Awards, organised by the MJ, or Municipal Journal, a publication for UK local authorities.  This award is the latest recognition for the programme. Since its inception, No Wrong Door has won the national award for Innovation in Local Government and has been rated outstanding by Ofsted. The Department for Education said it should inform national policy and practice.  

A recent evaluation report of No Wrong Door by Loughborough University shows that over the last two years No Wrong Door has supported and significantly improved outcomes for 350 young people in North Yorkshire.  The county’s population of children and young people in care has fallen substantially since No Wrong Door was set up two years ago and the vast majority of young people (86 per cent) referred to No Wrong Door remain out of the care system and the use of residential placements has fallen by half.

The vast majority of young people supported by No Wrong Door remain in education, employment or training and levels of criminal activity have reduced by almost 40 per cent.

Consistency is the key and each young person has one key worker who sticks with them throughout to prevent them being passed from pillar to post. Families and young people are supported to stay together and work together whenever possible.

No Wrong Door delivers an improvement in services while saving significant amounts of money – avoiding the high costs of placement breakdown, of having to use out-of-authority care and preventing young people’s descent into the very expensive criminal justice system. 

Only one young person has been placed out of area since No Wrong Door started two years ago.  Given that it costs around £8,500 a week or more than £400,000 a year to place a young person in care outside the area of the local authority, this improvement delivers substantial savings. 

The report shows that the effects of No Wrong Door in reducing offending behaviour and missing from home incidents – which have halved – has led to a saving of £200,000 to North Yorkshire Police during the first year alone.

“Staff here work their socks off to help you out,” said Ben Freer, 21, who is now living independently and working as a building labourer. “I still come back to see people, and I help out with decorating and stuff.   I still need help in life and there are people I trust here.   It has changed me loads.  I wouldn’t listen to anybody when I was younger. I was always in trouble.” 

James is the team manager of No Wrong Door.

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A former soldier who served in Basra and an ex-prison officer, he is determined to give the children in his care – some of society’s most vulnerable – the good life they deserve.

A former inspection Ofsted also rated the No Wrong Door service as outstanding and James as “an outstanding role model for staff, young people and other professionals.  Young people are left in no doubt that the registered manager and staff will go all out to help them.”   

“A lot of the kids who come to us through No Wrong Door have given up hope”, said James.  “When you come from a family background where there is substance misuse or alcohol dependency and poor mental health, the future is too unknown, you don’t have aspirations.  Our job is to build up relationships and build up their confidence and we have a whole team dedicated to that, doing whatever is necessary to keep them safe and give them a future.  

“You have to find out what they are good at – it might be mountain biking, fishing, boxing – and  build on that. We do focus on rigorous teaching and learning, but a lot of education we do is also outside the classroom – providing wonderful outdoor experiences.”

Whatever happens, says James, you have to always be there for the kids and able go back into work with a smile on your face: “You have to be massively resilient in this line of work because you can have everything thrown at you, but underneath it all these kids are human and they deserve to have all the chances that everybody else has.” 

As well as being a lynchpin for the operation and hugely respected by the young people supported by No Wrong Door, James with his wife and family also fosters.

He was brought up in Scarborough by parents who themselves fostered large numbers of children.  He remembers endless days of picnics on the beach; ball games on the sand and rock pooling – “good, honest and affordable” childhood pleasures with burgeoning numbers of siblings.

It has left him with a profound sense of duty and the desire to carry on the good work: “It gave me a real understanding that all children are not as lucky as I was and a real commitment to public service.”

James now lives in Scarborough with his wife Sarah, a teacher, their birth sons Jack, 9, and Sam, 7, and four foster sons: James, 20, and Daniel, 18, who are brothers; Dan aged 18 and Kyle, 17 who have come through the No Wrong Door service.

James and Sarah Cliffe took the brothers in when their previous foster carer retired. The older brother James is now studying for a degree in nursing at university. “They are both incredible young men and doing well and growing as confident adults”, said James Cliffe.   

Dan’s young life had been very hard and risky and Dan freely admits that if it wasn’t for James, Sarah and the No Wrong Door service, he could be in prison.  He said: “James is an incredible man.  He’s just always there for you.  You don’t cross him, you know where you stand with him, but he’d do anything for you,”

Dan was at risk at home due to substance misuse and other factors and had got in with a group involved in criminality.  “It’s not where Dan wanted to be” said James. “He got into trouble because he needed to eat and stole food and things like that.  

“Dan’s crazy about rugby and we’d been picking him up at the weekend and giving him lunch as a family and taking him to Scarborough Rugby Club  so we decided to foster him.  He is a very hands-on young man and is training in horticulture and landscaping and that suits him well –he loves it and works hard. 

“We knew what we’d got and that was a lovely lad who would fit in with our family.” 

Picture shows: James Cliffe with young people from the No Wrong Door hub in Scarborough. Dan is on his left.