The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care should recommend the establishment of a new national care service to the Department for Education, a leading fostering agency has urged.
TACT is calling for the DfE establish a ground-breaking new national care service – the National Care Family – which would encompass fostering, adoption, kinship, residential, foster, and secure care. The proposed service would also take over responsibility for children who return to their birth parents from care and the secure youth justice estate.
Andy Elvin, TACT CEO, said: “All children in care, or in families created through social services’ intervention, require a Service that is dedicated to them and their families. Local authorities will never be able to prioritise this group lifelong. If we merely try to re-purpose the current systems/structures, we will simply get more of what we already have. The solution has to be a wholly different place, not a reformulation of what we currently have.”
The creation of an exclusive dedicated body will mean that local authorities will no longer hold parental or operational responsibility for children in public care.
In addition to the existing range of support given to children in the care system, the National Care Family would also work to support birth parents whose children return to them from care, and provide assistance for care experienced adults. Being care experienced would become a protected characteristic with an automatic entitlement to lifelong support.
TACT argues that while taking children into care often protects children from neglect or abuse, and for a significant number of children it is transformative, children in care often do not fare as well as their peers out of the care system. Compared with children in the general population, children in care tend to have significantly poorer outcomes in a number of areas, such as educational attainment, and mental and physical health.
Children and young people who grow up in care are:
“It is time that we took drastic action to change the narrative and tackle the negative outcomes for too many care experienced people,” said TACT.
The report on the NCF proposal states: “It will not be a bureaucratic behemoth, there will be no central London office or large scale management structure. The families it supports will have full delegated authority, and will make all the important decisions with and for the children they are bringing up.”
“The NCF will be the structure that allows this to happen, ensuring that these families receive all the services they need to bring up their children, and that those children have access to the service lifelong. The management structure will be one of upside down management, with decisions made in family homes, and support from NCF staff will be available as and when needed. This will allow the actuality of the service to be local, not national,” it added.
TACT’s vision is that the service will be a public sector entity, and will not be outsourced to a charity or private provider. Children are in the care of the state, and a good parent takes that responsibility seriously. It could be a non-departmental public body, in the same way that CAFCASS is. It will be inspected by OFSTED and answer to Parliament and be scrutinised by the Commons Education Select Committee and others, as appropriate. The service will be directly overseen by a Board, similarly to CAFCASS. This Board must have significant representation from experts by experience of the services the NCF is responsible for (e.g., care experienced people, parents whose children have been taken into care, and adopted adults).
Child protection and family support would remain local authority responsibilities.
“If we merely try to re-purpose the current systems/structures, we will simply get more of what we already have. Corporations do not parent children. Adults who love and care for the children parent them,” said the report.
“The new service will not be a corporate parent; it will support, enable and serve the actual adults who are the parents. Delegated authority to the families that these children will spend their childhoods with has to be real, and respect for these families must be meaningful. In this way, the NCF can avoid some of the issues created by the corporate parenting approach. The solution has to be a wholly different place, not a reformulation of what we currently have. It is time we did something truly radical and transformative for the State’s children,” the report concluded.
A statement from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “The proposal as it stands will create very significant disruption with few guarantees of improved outcomes for children, in fact the opposite could easily arise from huge structural reforms. Nationalising 152 local care services and dividing other key services, such as health provision into two sections, would require the creation of new laws as well as the wholesale transfer of records, systems and staff, the tearing up established guidance and ways of working as well as the severing of democratic links with local communities.
“The separation of care from family support and child protection work in local authorities plus the creation of other agencies to oversee independent reviewing officer functions, the purchasing of care placements and a network of new local advisory boards risks more siloed working and confusion, not less. We are ambitious for children and open to reform but we should learn from the failed reforms of probation services and the NHS. This does not seem like the best use of either energy and resources at this time and carries unacceptable levels of risk,” the statement added.