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Independent review chair outlines priorities for Spending Review

Chair of the Independent review of children’s social care has laid out the three main priorities to government ahead of the Spending Review.

Independent review chair Josh MacAlister

Josh MacAlister said that when he was appointed to lead the independent review of children’s social care, he was asked to share early findings of the review ahead of Spending Review 2021 to inform its Spending Review bid.

With a Spending Review likely in the coming months, Mr MacAlister has shared his early findings with government, stating that finances should be directed towards family help, homes for children in care and the mental health of children in care.

“To accompany the Case for Change, I have set out below three areas where I believe there is a need for urgent investment that should be prioritised by Government in this Spending Review. These are not recommendations or conclusions from the review but they should provide you with the early input you requested from the review that I hope will inform government decision making as part of the Spending Review. These areas are also not intended to be an indication of the review’s overall priorities, but rather the areas where the most urgent investment is needed,” said Mr MacAlister.

Mr MacAlister only began chairing the review in March and his final report will be published next year with a full set of recommendations. While his Case for Change document outlined that there is no situation in the current system where more money will not be required in order to make it sustainable, the areas he highlights are those most in need of investment.

Family Help

“There are serious shortcomings in how we support families who are struggling to parent their children in conditions of adversity,” said Mr MacAlister.

He highlights that:

  • Local government spending is increasingly skewed towards acute services and away from effective help.
  • Local authorities are trapped in a cycle of crisis intervention and spending on acute services and additional funding is urgently needed to rebalance this and make a greater investment in support for families.
  • Help should be available to any family that is facing significant challenges that could pose a threat to providing their child with a loving, stable, safe family life.
  • Additional investment should reach families directly rather than being subsumed by increased complexity or overheads in the system.
  • This investment should also include parents of children with disabilities and support for kinship care arrangements to ensure that wherever possible children are able to grow up in loving homes with friends or family members, instead of entering care.

The chair urges a cross government approach in deciding how to invest in this area, in a bid to avoid adding new programmes or additional pots of funding into the system. Furthermore, this creates an opportunity for central government to play a more active role in setting direction for family help services.

A Spending Review bid should also coordinate with any other Departments planning to channel support for families through local authorities, including replacing support currently provided by Department for Work and Pensions’ Covid Local Grant (which is expected to end soon), that could provide direct help to families parenting in conditions of adversity. It is important that this resource can be accessed by social workers and other professionals to help families.

Homes for children in care

“Our current approach to finding homes for children in care is leading to the unnecessary severing of important relationships. A broad re-think of the current system is needed and the review is considering all options for our final recommendations,” said Mr MacAlister.

He outlined:

  • The current system is extremely fragile, with pressures on secure accommodation.
  • There are issues with children being sent many miles from their families and communities – including English children being placed in Scotland – and a severe lack of homes that can meet the needs of teenagers.
  • The Department for Education should invest additional money to stabilise and address urgent areas of need ahead of any significant reform.

The government should ensure that investment is made according to the principles that the system should be working towards – keeping children as close to their community and family networks as possible and providing genuine stability.

New approaches to secure accommodation should be considered as should options of shared care.

New investment should build on existing best practice and ensure provision exists where it is most needed. It must also pay particular attention to children who are most likely to be failed by the current system – including children with complex needs, teenagers and unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

Mental health of children in care

“The NHS Long Term Plan includes a commitment to expand mental health services for children. However, I have been told time and again since I began the review that many children in care are suffering from extremely poor mental health and struggling to get meaningful support. Whilst the review will make recommendations about mental health support, this Spending Review and government’s broader focus on Covid-19 recovery planning and investment is an opportunity to do something sooner to help this uniquely vulnerable group of children who are disproportionately likely to have experienced abuse and neglect,” said Josh MacAlister.

In fact, the early findings from the review have revealed that mental health support for children in care might not always be best met through CAMHS services, which continue to face high demand, but instead by investing across health, education and social care to better train practitioners and carers in therapeutic responses to supporting children.

“To reiterate again, this letter does not constitute the review’s recommendations or definitive findings, but is intended to outline some of the areas from the early work of the review which have the most urgent need for investment through the Spending Review,” concluded Josh MacAlister.

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