The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care — Does it go far and fast enough?
Last month, the government published its response to a list of recommendations made in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and two other reviews. The reviews explore broadly experiences of children, carers and practitioners in the social care system. The findings of these reviews indicate that, overall, the system is failing to meet the needs of children and families whom it’s meant to serve.
The case for early intervention services
Children and young people across England are facing unprecedented difficulties. From poor mental health and wellbeing to pressures brought on by the cost-of-living crisis, and the increasing threat of child criminal and sexual exploitation. Families who up until recently could keep their head above water are now not able to get by. Currently, demand for preventative services far outweighs supply. Children’s Social Care spending on crisis and late intervention services has increased by almost 40% over the past decade. Much of this increase has been due to a 24% rise in the number of children entering care, usually considered a last-resort measure.1 What can the Government do to turn the tide on the increasing number of children going into care? One clear answer is — through investment into services that can help children and families as soon as problems arise. Yet that is one thing that the response to the review lacks.
The Government’s plans for Children’s Social Care
In its response, the government proposes a 2-year strategy called Stable Homes, Built on Love, to improve support for children and families, consisting of actions across six areas (or ‘pillars’) of reform across the entire children’s social care sector, including help for families and improving quality of care for children in care, backed by £200 million in the first two years.2 While the Government has taken on board many of the recommendations from the Independent Review, the financial commitment is markedly less than the £2.8 billion over five years that the Independent Review calculated would be needed to, first of all, address the current crisis in children’s social care, and secondly, implement a programme of change across the social care system.
We welcome the government’s response to the Children’s Social Care Review. However, based on our research and extensive front-line work with children, young people and families, we know that the planned reforms do not address the acute need experienced by children and families now. They also do little about the limited resources in Local Authorities (LAs) to provide the support and care where and when it’s needed. We outline below some of the key issues that are relevant to our practitioners and the children and young people we work with.
How will the new plans impact practitioners, children and young people?
Roll-out and reach of Family Help pilot will initially be implemented across only 12 LAs. More and better support for families across all areas is acutely needed now. How will LAs deliver and pay for these much-needed changes across those areas not included in the pilot?
We are very supportive of Government plans for Opt-out Advocacy, however, discussions on how to do this are still in the early stages. We want all children to access advocacy, and we would like to see investment and commitment to this end. We will continue influencing on this.
We welcome plans for preventative support for families with teenagers, especially as, over the past decade, funding cuts have significantly reduced universal and targeted provision for this group. We know that older teenagers, aged 16–18, especially those on the edge of care are at higher risk of child criminal and sexual exploitation. Reforms of family support should include early support for older children and young people — not just young children — and include measures to strengthen universal services such as education and health.
This links in with another proposal included in the Government’s response, namely improving the availability and quality of care placements where a child lives, rather than far from friends and family. Will the Government ensure there are enough care places in LAs before it starts potentially reducing the pool of providers through regulation?
The Government will test ways of improving multi-agency working and child protection. In our experience, these arrangements work best through effective information sharing practices, and when children’s needs, safety and voices are placed front and centre. One of the areas which this kind of improved working will target is Harm outside the family home. We will continue to highlight the need for a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation that will make it easier for agencies to work together effectively, while ensuring a child-focused approach that views children as victims and not perpetrators.
The Government’s plans also include promoting more Family and Child-Friendly Policies. This hopefully implies a recognition of how policies that apply to society in a broader sense, e.g. housing, employment, and immigration, impact the lives of families and children. It is yet to be seen how serious the Government really is in this regard, as it seems they expect LAs to make changes and improvements to children’s social care on current funding levels.
The Government plans for Children’s Social Care, while ambitious and a step in the right direction, do not do enough to address the needs of young people, NOW. Furthermore, the issue of the hundreds of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being placed in inadequate accommodation and going missing from care homes is not clearly addressed and needs urgent attention.
So, what’s next? In addition to continuing to raise awareness among decision-makers about the urgency of investing in early intervention services, we are putting together a response to the Government’s plans. We will involve front-line practitioners and young people to make sure that they have their voices heard, and that their valuable experiences and perspectives on the Children’s Social Care system help to shape much-needed changes.
The six pillars are: Family help; Keeping children safe; Supporting families to help children; Improve quality of care for children in care and care leavers; Improvements to social work profession; and improving the whole system for children and families. For a more detailed summary, please see: ChildSocCareRevSUMMARY DRAFT.pdf (adobe.com)