A new kind of children's care home: Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang’s story
Published: 31 Jan 2020
Social entrepreneur Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang (2018 Fellow) is championing a new model of children’s homes and the first is set to open in 2021. He was inspired by his Fellowship in Denmark and Germany, where a different approach to care homes is proving a huge success.
Whilst working as a teacher in a Birmingham secondary school, Emmanuel came across a worrying statistic: only 17.5% of children in care get 5 pass grades at GCSE (including English and maths), compared to 60% among all children - and this drops to 4% if they live in children's care homes. Emmanuel had spent time in foster care as a child and, on the whole, his experience had been broadly positive. But disturbed by this statistic, he undertook some research into the outcomes of children in care.
He found that, when they become adults, children in care are far more likely to become criminalised, homeless or unemployed and, perhaps most concerning, was that these numbers dramatically increased if they had spent time in residential care. Children in residential care are three times more likely to be criminalised than children in other types of care, and almost 15 times more likely than other young people their age.
Motivated to give young people in care the opportunities that he had received, Emmanuel founded Lighthouse, a social enterprise committed to improving outcomes for children in care. At its heart would be creating a new model of children’s homes that would provide educational support, a family-like environment and a stable place to live and feel safe and secure.
Currently many children don’t have this experience within the UK’s care home system, where 73% of homes are run for profit, there is a high turnover of staff and children, homes can feel heavily institutionalised, and children are often left to fend for themselves. Recently there has also been a rise in the number of children put in unregulated care homes, where they are at increased risk of exploitation.
In 2017, Emmanuel applied for a Churchill Fellowship to Denmark and Germany, to explore their different approaches to children’s homes. Based on the principles of social pedagogy, their homes put the wellbeing of the child at the centre of their activities, focussing on building community, stability and lasting relationships. This is done through methods such as recruiting highly trained staff who are all pedagogues (degree-qualified carers trained in behavioural sciences and in working with conflict), eating together at every meal time, encouraging school attendance, helping children with homework and even going on annual holidays together. The houses, too, look like homes not institutions, with children allowed to decorate their own rooms.
The results in Denmark and Germany have been hugely positive, with excellent testimonials from the children and young people, who stay at the same homes for 13 years on average. This compares to the UK situation, where 10% of children in care experience two or more home moves in a year, and where more than 50% experience one or more home moves in three years.
Emmanuel undertook his Fellowship in 2018 and, inspired by what he had seen in Europe, set about making his vision a reality in the UK. His first step was to share his findings with his co-founders at Lighthouse and then raise the funding to hire staff and buy a building. They found a suitable residential site by carrying out careful risk assessments to ensure there was no gang activity in the area that might affect residents of the home. An architect was employed to turn a previously derelict building into a state-of-the-art children’s home. Much of the design work was based on the homes Emmanuel had visited in Denmark. A team of advisors was appointed comprising former teachers, social workers and child mental health professionals. They worked with the architect to design a building that looks and feels like a home not an institution. Finally, a call has gone out for staff who will receive extensive ongoing training in social pedagogy.
Later this year, Lighthouse will launch its first home in the outer London borough of Sutton, with plans to open two more in the London area over the next four years. Emmanuel’s Fellowship equipped him with the knowledge and ideas to design a new model of children’s homes for the UK. He hopes that they will act as a beacon of excellent practice that can be replicated by others.