An Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England (the “Review”) was launched by Gavin Williamson on 15 January 2021 (with the review commencing on 1 March 2021) led by Josh MacAlister. The Review is has an ambitious remit reviewing the whole children’s social care system and asking the question: “How do we ensure children grow up in loving, stable and safe families and, where that is not possible, care provides the same foundation?” Whilst the final report with recommendations for change is expected in 2022, last week saw the publishing of an interim report.
On 17 June 2021, the Review published a Case for Change described as an “early attempt to bring together what we have heard so far and transparently set out where we think there are biggest problems”. It is based on input from more than 700 people with lived experience of children’s social care, around 300 people working with children and families, 932 responses to a Call for Advice and 207 submissions to a Call for Evidence. The Case for Change calls for system wide reform and a change in practice and culture of child protection and social work. The Review is now asking for feedback on the basis of the Report.
The Case for Change has been met with a varied response with widespread recognition of the challenging and well publicised conditions which face children’s social care systems around the country. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Charlotte Ramsden said the Case for Change highlighted concerns the ADCS had been raising with government for years, including the value of early help, the impact of poverty on families and the risks caused by the marketisation of services.
Key findings of ‘Case for Change’
We need to do more to help families
- Community is the first line of defence but we do not utilise its full potential to help families.
- When the state needs to step in, the focus should be on support not investigation.
- Investing in help for families matters - but more money alone is not a ‘silver bullet’.
- We need a clear understanding of what is meant by ‘family help’.
We need a child protection system that keeps children safe through more effective support and decisive action
- Process dominates over direct work with families. The system is focused on risk and investigation of families over early and practical support. The number of Section 47 inquiries has more than doubled since 2010, to 201,000 investigations in a year but 135,000 of those led to no child protection plan.
- Decision making and risk assessment is too inconsistent and underpinned by lack of knowledge and information sharing problems.
- The state has failed to keep teenagers safe from harms outside the home - the fastest growing area of child protection - such as criminal gangs and trafficking and is not a “pushy enough parent” when it comes to providing support to children in care and care leavers, who are disproportionately likely to experience poor mental health, poor exam results, homelessness and unemployment.
- There are significant inequalities in which families are involved with children’s social care in terms of factors of poverty, deprivation, race and ethnicity, integrational experiences of care.
- When cases escalate there needs to be more decisive action and the right support. Court proceedings are by their nature adversarial and have high human and economic costs - more work is needed to promote solution finding and non-adversarial approaches before children and families are taken to court.
- We should find stability and permanency for children where they cannot remain with their families - kinship arrangements and adopting can offer children permanence outside of care.
- More needs to be done to support parents who have their children removed and better practices in place to stop children returning to care to prevent cycles of re-entry and trauma.
The care system must build not break relationships
- Keeping children close to their community and siblings.
- Reliable homes, schools and social workers in the right places with the right support.
- Nurturing ongoing relationships with families and growing children’s network of relationships.
- Care experience carries stigma and can weaken identity.
Change will not happen without addressing the system causes
- The system is ‘complicated, bureaucratic and risk averse’.
- Children’s social care is under significant financial pressure and urgent action is needed.
- There is insufficient coordination both nationally and locally and accountability is confused. There is a need for coordinated central government policy and effective strategic direction.
- The placement market is s ‘broken’ and needs a ‘pragmatic rethink’. The market for care and local authority commissioning and matching is no working - supply is not meeting demand and there is an increasing role of private provision. The Case for Change notes the cost, profit and financial health or providers.
- The Review is working alongside the Competition and Markets Authority as well as What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care to work with the Government Outcomes Lab at Oxford University to look at effective models of commissioning that could be applied to children’s social care.
- Multi-agency arrangements don’t take a multidisciplinary approach to working with children and families. There is a need for more cohesion between school, health, housing and children’s social care.
- There is a need for recruitment, training and support of high quality social care staff - burnout is high; supervision is lacking; agency staff are costly and leadership turnover is too high. There are too many social workers in management roles and there are critical skills and knowledge gaps.
This Case for Change provides a platform for the ongoing work of the Review and those wanting to engage should take the opportunity to provide feedback and engage with the Review. The next key date is the online form, which is open until 13 August for feedback on the Case for Change.
The Review is tasked with a challenging exercise. Whilst, the need for substantive change within children’s social care has been apparent for many years, the timing of the review is crucial in recognising the health and social inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic and highlighting the need for change to be supported through all stakeholders in children’s social care.
If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please contact Kirtpal Kaur Aujla, Partner.