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Independent review of children’s social care launched

The anticipated independent review of children’s social care has been launched by education secretary Gavin Williamson to improve the lives of the most vulnerable children in England.

The independent review of children’s social care, which delivers on a 2019 manifesto commitment pledging to look at the care system to make sure children and young adults get the support they need, aims to radically reform the system, and raise the bar for vulnerable children across the country.

The Education Secretary has appointed former teacher Josh MacAlister, who founded the social work charity Frontline in 2013, to lead the review. Mr MacAlister will step down from his role as Chief Executive to lead the review.

Gavin Williamson said: “We have known for some time that despite the best efforts of hardworking and dedicated social workers, the children’s social care system is not delivering a better quality of life and improved outcomes for those it is designed to help.

“This review will be bold, wide-ranging and will not shy away from exposing problems where they exist. Under Josh MacAlister’s leadership, it will benefit from his understanding of the challenges facing the system and his experience of improving outcomes for children and young people.

“It is part of the golden thread that runs through everything we are doing to level up society, especially for those who are too often forgotten or marginalised. It is going to help us raise the bar for these vulnerable children, it’s going to help us improve their life prospects and most importantly, it’s going to help give them the chance to achieve their potential and not be held back from the futures they deserve,” he added.

The voices and experiences of care-experienced young people or adults will be central to the review which will address major challenges such as:

- The increase in numbers of looked after children.

- The inconsistencies in children’s social care practice.

- Outcomes across the country.

- The failure of the system to provide enough stable homes for children.

The review will address the clear need for change that supports children to achieve their potential. Children who have been in care comprise:

- 25% of the homeless

- 24% of the prison population

- Over a third of care leavers (39%) are not in education, employment or training, compared to 13% of all 19-21-year-olds

- Just 13% progressed to Higher Education by age 19 compared to 43% of all other pupils.

Chair of the Review Josh MacAlister said: “If 2020 showed us the grit, commitment and creativity of social workers, teachers and other professionals, then 2021 is our chance to think afresh about how we support children without the safety, stability and love that many of us take for granted.

“This review will listen deeply and think boldly. That is why I am recruiting for an ‘Experts by Experience’ Group that will direct an ambitious effort to hear the diverse experiences of children and families who have had social workers. I also need advice and challenge as we start this review, which is why I’m launching a Call for Advice.

“Deep down I think many of those working in the children’s social care system and certainly many of those who have experience of it, know that radical change is needed. My commitment is that this review will deliver a wide-ranging plan to extend the joy, growth and safety of childhood and the esteem, love and security of family life to all children,” he added.

The ‘Call for Advice’ will help shape the early work of the review and Mr MacAlister is inviting applications for an ‘Experts by Experience’ group to advise him on how to include the voices of people with a ‘lived experience’ of the children’s social care system. The review will consult widely and bring in a broad range of expertise.

The Department for Education will publish terms of reference for the review, setting out the themes and questions that will be addressed. These include:

- How to improve accountability for those responsible for children’s outcomes

- How to ensure children have a positive experience of care, and

- How to support and strengthen families – helping children stay safely with their families where possible.

The review of children’s social care builds on the DfE’s investment of almost £4.4 million to extend Covid-19 response programmes run by major children’s charities aimed at reaching ‘hidden’ children. November’s Spending Review also confirmed an additional £24 million investment in 2021-22 to expand capacity within secure children’s homes, as well as £165 million funding for the Government’s Troubled Families programme.

The Education Secretary also confirmed that the Adoption Support Fund will continue beyond March 2021. The government is also set to respond to the consultation on unregulated provision, where the views of the sector and care-experienced young people were sought on banning the placement of children under the age of 16 in this provision and introducing national standards for provision for 16 and 17-year-olds.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said: “Every child deserves a safe and happy childhood in which they are loved and supported to reach their full potential. Some children will need help from children’s social care services for that to happen, and this review gives the entire system the opportunity to make sure services work as well as they should.

“We are particularly pleased that the review intends to place the views and experiences of children, young people and the care experienced community at its heart. Proper, meaningful engagement will make clear the changes our children and young people want and deserve.

“The review will need to look at the experiences of children in the round, considering not only the work of children’s social care departments, but partners including schools and healthcare services who have a vital role to play in supporting children and their families. Demand for support has increased dramatically over the last decade, and it is important that we understand why this is and whether services are adequately resourced to give children the right help at the right time.

“Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important roles that councils play. Councils stand ready to work closely with the review team to contribute their knowledge and expertise, and to ensure the best possible outcomes for the children they support and their families,” she added.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity for a bold and ambitious assessment of how to fix the many broken parts of the children’s social care system and it must be a driver for change.

“It must put children’s voices at its heart. I hear from children all the time who are being pushed around the system – forced to move foster home or change school at short notice and against their wishes, and often many miles away from family and friends. I hear from older children in care who are being placed in dangerous, unregulated accommodation where they are at risk of exploitation.

“The system needs urgent reform and this review must not tinker around the edges or be simply a set of recommendations that are not then acted upon. It must lead to real, meaningful change for children in care and those on the edge of it, and to the state becoming a better parent to all of the vulnerable children it has a duty to look after,” she concluded.

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