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Reform of children’s social care needed as current system “not good enough”

The current children’s social care system is “not good enough” and needs the reform currently being undertaken in the independent review of children’s social care, the children’s commissioner for England has warned.

In a meeting on residential care and answering a question on how the children’s care system should deal with money being diverted from early to late intervention, Dame Rachel de Souza said that when trying to undertake reform, the system should be viewed as a whole. The review and future reforms “needs to happen as it is currently not good enough with half of local authorities judged to be ‘not good’”.

This is despite the best efforts of those working hard in children’s services, she said.

Dame Rachel de Souza said: “There is a definite tension, we’re seeing huge resources going into the acute end. I was pleased to see in the Spending Review money for Family Hubs. I’m pleased to see the first bits of money to start this change. I use Leeds as an example. It has gone from inadequate to outstanding – they have got rid of thresholds, that was a process that took 3,4,5 years, it’s everything from CPD for social workers and investing in that, setting up systems so social workers can talk about children and getting early family help in. There are a range of things that need to happen.”

“Like any public sector reform, there is not a silver bullet, but people have been on that journey and Sunderland actually managed to do it in around 18 months. There is a case for let’s learn from best practice and share it. It’s going to take boldness to support early family help and prevent things happening, but it will be more efficient in the long term and better for young lives,” she added.

However, Yvette Stanley, National Director for Social Care ad Ofsted, said that there are not currently spare resources at the acute end of the system to redirect into early intervention, nor would earlier intervention do much to support the teenagers that are increasingly coming into the care system.

Furthermore, early intervention should not result in increased caseloads for social workers as the places that are working effectively have manageable caseloads for their social workers to enable them to work effectively with families and develop relationships.

She told the fourth evidence session of the children’s home inquiry by the education select committee: “We do not see local authorities routinely taking children into care and intervening unnecessarily. The threshold is not too low and there is a delicate debate about state intervention in family life and when that should happen. So I do not see spare resources in the acute end to recycle at this point in time.”

“At some point that earlier investment should reduce numbers but reducing them safely will come at some cost,” said Ms Stanley. However, she highlighted that the places Ms de Souza had referred to in terms of promoting good practice and delivering positive outcomes for children still invest heavily in the acute end and enable social workers to do a good job by having “low enough caseloads to maintain relationships with families, with children and to do purposeful work to affect change”.

“You can’t invest in early intervention by increasing the volume of work that a social work has to do,” said Ms Stanley.

“For the teenagers I am seeing coming into the system, it is very targeted, significant and not short-term investment. I am a passionate believer in the Family Hubs too but these families are not going to be hugely impacted,” she said.

“It’s about crisis support, it’s often about intensive mental health services which Rachel [de Souza] and I absolutely agree are really por for children in this country,” she added.

“So it’s some very specific services and very intensive intervention needed not just to prevent stepping up, but often to support stepping down safely to families because these are families who are likely to need some enduring support to enable them to keep their children safely,” said Ms Stanley.

The comments came after former children’s commissioner and chair of the Commission on Young Lives Anne Longfield warned last week that the care system is currently unfit for purpose and is handing over some vulnerable children to criminals and abusers rather than ensuring that they are protected.

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