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“Only the beginning”: Children’s social care sector responds to Care Review final report

The Government has announced its first actions in response to the Care Review publishing its final recommendations, while sector leaders urge concern at moving too quickly to implement its changes.

23/05/22

“Only the beginning”: Children’s social care sector responds to Care Review final report

The Government has said it will create a new National Implementation Board to oversee and action change after the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England published its final report calling for a ‘radical reset’ of the system.

The board will consist of sector experts, as well as people with experience of leading transformational change and the care system. It will also boost efforts to recruit more foster carers, increase support for social workers including on leadership, recruitment and retention, improve data sharing, and implement a new evidence-based framework for all the professionals working in children’s social care, the Government says.

“This is the start of a journey to change the culture and dramatically reform the children’s social care system,” Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said.

“We are ready to meet the challenge set by this review, and I will set out my plans for bold and ambitious change in the coming months.”

Read our breakdown of the changes proposed by the Care Review: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Care-Review-recommends-new-%E2%80%98expert-social-worker%E2%80%99-role-and-Family-Help-Service

Seven areas of England will also receive funding to set up family hubs which offer early help and intervention.

The Department for Education says it is working with local authorities to boost efforts to recruit more foster carers, as well as beginning work on developing a National Children’s Social Care Framework to set direction for the care system and to bring together in one place the objectives, outcomes, indicators and practice guidance to support system improvement.

Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, said the review’s publication is an important opportunity for everyone working with children.

“Whilst the publication of reviews is only ever the first stage in a process, and the ideas held in them only as good as their implementation, we must not underestimate the need to act – so many children’s lives and futures are at stake.”

Elsewhere in the sector, many have welcomed the bold vision of the Review but are eager to see how the changes are implemented.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said the Review will be judged on whether the recommendations are both “credible and realistic” in tackling the deep problems in the children’s social care system in England.

“[We welcome] the report’s stated aims: to develop and advance the children’s social care system; to put children’s needs and voices at the heart of planning; to enable professionals to work together better; to support and develop the social work workforce; and to put healthy relationships at the heart of support for children,” the association said in a statement, adding: “However, these changes will only be possible with an end to unfeasibly high workloads, inconsistent supervision and mentoring, and poor career and development pathways, which drive desperately-needed, experienced social workers out of the profession.”

Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers, praised the proposed new Care Standards and the steps towards ending the ‘care cliff’ that many young people experience when they turn 18.

However, the charity expressed concern at the “major re-organisation” of the way that homes children in the care system live in are funded and run by setting up Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) which it says moves responsibility away from local authorities.

“Become is worried this could move decision making further away from children and young people and the people that know them best,” it said in a statement.

The charity also shared concerns about proposals to reduce the amount of independent scrutiny of the decisions that social workers make about the care and support children in the care system receive.

“Whilst the current system could undoubtedly be improved, checks and balances are necessary and play an important role in keeping children safe. They should not be abandoned lightly.”

The Care Review Watch Alliance (CRWA), a collective of care experienced people, care professionals (including social workers) and academics, urged caution at rushing into changes without “proper and careful consultation taking place”, drawing parallels to widely criticised reforms to probation services

“CRWA is concerned that the calls for whole system change including statute, statutory guidance, the creation of regional care ‘co-operatives’ and the re- interpretation of a child in need, could leave children even more vulnerable as they will be out of scope of the State losing many protective layers whilst millions of pounds are given to unregulated organisations,” the collective said in a statement.

“To get this right for children and families, we need time to carefully consider the recommendations put before us, in light of existing knowledge together with a full consultation that is inclusive of children and families and those who work alongside them and support them.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), whose members leading local authority children’s services will have to implement many of the changes recommended by the Review, said the focus on family help, on developing the workforce, and profiteering in the placements market – including better regulation of agency social work – was welcome.

Like others in the sector, ADCS said it wanted to carefully work through the detail of the final report.

“Whilst there is much to support, we do need further detail to fully understand how some of the reforms would work in practice, such as a national advocacy service for children in care and regional care cooperatives. Careful trialling and evaluation may be needed before wider implementation of some aspect of the recommendations to ensure children’s best interests are not lost despite best intentions.

“We understand the government will be responding fully to the Review in due course and we look forward to working with them to develop an implementation plan that delivers for children and families to realise the ambitions articulated here.

Children’s rights charity Article 39 was sharply critical of many aspects of the Review’s final findings.

“The care system, like many other collective endeavours in our country, has been undermined and starved of public funds,” the charity’s Director Carolyne Willow said in a statement. “Against this backdrop, it is heart-sinking that the care review’s principal recommendations are for major structural reorganisation, which will, for years, consume many millions of pounds and the hearts and minds of people who could instead be leading cultural change to put children and their rights at the heart of everything.”

“It is depressing that, yet again, there are proposals to take away legal protections from children, and that the promise of strengthened advocacy services, which exist to make sure children are always heard and their rights defended, has been tied to the loss of other independent roles.

The charity also condemned the Review’s proposals to remove the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) role, calling it a “drastic and dangerous move”.

“IROs are experienced social workers who scrutinise local authorities’ care and decision-making in respect of individual children. They were introduced to make sure there is an experienced social worker not connected to the child’s care who holds the local authority to account.”

Elsewhere in the sector, fostering charities have welcomed the ‘new deal’ for foster carers including promises of bolstered foster carer recruitment, more support, and expansions of models such as the Mockingbird programme.

Kevin Williams, Chief Executive of The Fostering Network, said he welcomed the call for legislative change to introduce mechanisms for more effective recruitment and more intelligent commissioning.

“The retention of foster carers is equally as important as recruitment and evidence from our State of the Nation survey shows this. Foster carers come into fostering because they want to provide the best possible care for children, but sometimes the system puts barriers in the way, which make that more difficult than it should be. I’m pleased that the care review recognises the success of our Mockingbird programme in removing these barriers.”

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