What the children’s services sector said about the independent review into children’s social care.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services President, Charlotte Ramsden, said: “This review is a once in a generation opportunity to make meaningful and lasting change for the children and young people who need our help and support to thrive. The case for change reiterates a series of very important issues that ADCS has been raising with government over the last few years. From the value of early help, the impact of poverty on children’s lives and outcomes, the marketisation of services for vulnerable children, the slow pace of change in youth custody responses, funding and the lack of coordination for child and family policy across government. As well as highlighting concerns, which the report does well, we must also recognise the incredible work undertaken by our social workers, and the wider workforce, on a daily basis. Social workers operate within a strict legislative framework and under intense scrutiny from many different angles. Yes, the workforce must be empowered to make the best decisions for children and families, but appropriate and measured checks and balances are also needed to support this life changing work, which can be absolutely transformative for children and families. For too long external influences have driven risk averse cultures and we need to challenge this.
“We have one of the safest child protection systems in the world and it is vitally important to work to keep families together where that is right for children. However, whilst by no means perfect, care can be and is the right place for some children and we must work to make it the best place possible for those who need it. Children should not be stigmatized for the impact of their life experiences or mistakes the adults in their lives may have made. We all have a responsibility, including government, to challenge lazy stereotypes, to be ambitious about what children in care and care leavers can achieve. There are fundamental issues raised within this report, such as the contributory causal relationship between income and state intervention, along with the racial disparities that exist. The review must therefore seek to understand not only the symptoms, but the root causes and solutions, which may be beyond the gift of children’s services, such as welfare and benefit policies. We all have an important part to play, not least central government.
“The importance of being ambitious for children in care cannot be overstated. We know that all children and young people need a stable, loving environment that allows them to flourish and the evidence is clear that the earlier we are able to support families, the more likely this is to happen. Instead, over the last decade central funding for these vital services has fallen dramatically and so all too often we are now only able to intervene when problems have escalated to near crisis levels. This is not in children’s best interests and it is certainly not sustainable.
“The review calls for a vision for children’s social care, we think this must go further and be part of a coherent and strategic long-term plan for childhood, from the early years through school and adolescence to adulthood. One that integrates services at the national level and recognises the systemic barriers facing children, particularly those growing up in poverty and deprivation. Providing the right support at the earliest opportunity for children and families is key but we must also not lose sight of the child. Their welfare and rights must always be at the forefront of decision-making.”
Barnardo's Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Most children come into care for protection from abuse and neglect, and many tell us that care has provided a place of sanctuary. However, in 2021, it cannot be right that the most vulnerable children have such drastically poorer outcomes than their peers.
“We welcome Josh MacAlister’s powerful ‘Case for Change’ and especially its focus on supporting families before they reach crisis point. He rightly identifies that improving outcomes requires significant funding, but also an overhaul of the system itself.
“The report adds weight to our calls for a Family Hub in every community, so all families can access support and help – physical and virtual – when they need it. That means better support for parents with babies right through to help for teenagers at risk of online grooming or criminal exploitation.
“Josh rightly highlights that care should ‘build not break’ relationships – which we know are key to helping children recover from harm and go on to achieve a positive future. So for children who can’t stay with their families, we need a system that finds them the right placement first time – wherever possible.
“Crucially, we must ensure that ‘care’ does not just stop at 18 - or even 21 - young people need support to access safe and stable accommodation as well as education, training and work.
“Barnardo’s is leading the way with some innovative programmes and partnerships across the country – but there’s a long way to go, and we’re delighted to be working with Josh to achieve the change young people deserve.
“Ultimately, we must ensure that the most vulnerable children and young people receive the care, support and love we provide to our own children.”
A statement from children’s charity NCB said: “The ‘Case for Change’ makes for depressing reading. It is unacceptable that so many children and families are being let down and denied the support that could allow them to enjoy healthy and stable lives. Too many previous reviews, reports and research have made the same points. We know what’s wrong with the system, what we need is the political will and urgency to change it and invest in children’s futures.
“The Independent Review has again underlined how children’s social care is increasingly focused on investigating serious cases and putting children into care, rather than supporting struggling families to prevent harm from happening in the first place. This isn’t simply the result of a more risk-averse system. It is inescapably linked to the devastating erosion of central government funding for children’s services over the past decade.
“There is also an important acknowledgement that children from poorer backgrounds, disabled children, and those from black and ethnic minority communities are often hardest hit by the cuts in early intervention. NCB fully supports the Review’s call for a more effective and compassionate response to families facing conditions of adversity. We cannot avoid tackling thorny issues like poverty and discrimination if we are going to reduce the number of children coming into care, and avoid the spiralling costs of child protection.
“A co-ordinated strategy from across government is urgently needed that looks at children’s lives in the round, and brings together work in social care, education, health and SEND. But first we need proper investment in early help and early intervention at this year’s Spending Review.
The Review’s analysis is comprehensive, strong and thoughtful – we hope the recommendations will be equally so and acted on swiftly.
Dr Lucy Peake, Chief Executive at Kinship said: “Today’s report will offer hope to the many thousands of kinship carers across England that their value – and their struggle – is finally being recognised. The voices of the 150 kinship carers who generously contributed to the review ring out. Their common experience of huge sacrifices made at short notice for the children they love, with little support, comes through strongly.
“The report lays bare what many of us already know, that an aging, dysfunctional, underfunded system is failing too many of the children and families it is responsible for. But we are encouraged that a light has been shone on kinship care, and its latent potential to provide more children with safe, loving homes. It recognises that growing up with a strong loving group of people around them is a basic right for children. We know that evidence has long shown that well-supported kinship care offers that love and stability.
“It is time for kinship care to stop being marginalised by policy makers and treated as the poor relation to adoption.
“Those caring for the most vulnerable children in our society, whether foster carers, adopters or family and friends, deserve the same levels of support. They all need access to financial, practical, therapeutic and other help.
“Not only does it make sense to support kinship carers for the sake of the children they are caring for, but it makes sense for the public purse. We estimate that for every 1,000 children moved from local authority care to well-supported kinship care, £40 million pounds is saved.”
The Local Government Association’s Vice Chair of the Children and Young People Board, Cllr Teresa Heritage, said: “We support the ambition of the independent review of children’s social care to make sure children, including those in care, grow up in loving, stable and safe environments.
“Councils have been raising the issues within the case for change for some years, including the need for government departments to work better together, reforms to the placements ‘market’ and more investment in the services that change children’s lives.
“There are many brilliant people working to improve the lives of children and their families, from social workers and foster carers to teachers, nurses and police officers. Their dedication in the face of enormous challenges should be commended and they must be listened to alongside those with lived experience as we seek solutions.
“We also urge the review to consider the context in which services for children and families are delivered. Inspection, media and government pressure can alter practice and drive risk aversion, while the impact of national policy must not be underestimated. Children’s services alone cannot do everything - we need a whole system approach to improving children’s lives.
“With the right funding and freedoms, councils can properly support government to achieve our shared ambition to improve the life chances of children and young people, so no one is left behind.”