Care Review Chair outlines areas needing “urgent investment” for Spending Review

Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Review of Children’s Social Care writes to the Secretary of State and Chief Secretary to share the Review’s ‘early findings’ to inform the Government’s upcoming Spending Review bid.

06/08/21

Care Review Chair outlines areas needing “urgent investment” for Spending Review

Josh MacAlister has written to the Secretary of State and Chief Secretary to share the Review’s ‘early findings’ for the Spending Review.

The Department for Education’s contract with the Review Chair stated that “early findings of the review must be shared with the Department for Education ahead of Spending Review 2021”, but MacAlister has pointed out that the submission does not constitute the Review’s final findings or recommendations, due to its work only beginning in March.

Reiterating the findings from his Case for Change, MacAlister warned that there is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more to make it sustainable.

“The choice is whether this investment is spent on reform which achieves better outcomes and long term sustainability, or props up an increasingly expensive and inadequate system.”

MacAlister said that earlier help for struggling families, the “extremely fragile” residential care home system, and the mental health system for children in care all required “urgent investment”.

MacAlister said local authorities are “trapped in a cycle of crisis intervention and spending on acute services” and that additional funding is urgently needed to rebalance this. He warned that this investment must be ringfenced for this early intervention, rather than diverted to tackle increased complexity and other children’s services costs, and that resources should be accessible for social workers and other professionals to help families.

“Significant additional funding for effective family help that makes a difference to the lives of children and families and reduces demand for acute services is needed. Help should be available to any family that is facing significant challenges that could pose a threat to providing their child with a loving, stable, safe family life.”

“It will be important that additional investment reaches families directly rather than being subsumed by increased complexity or overheads in the system.”

Based on its publications and comments from the chair, earlier intervention is looking to be a central philosophy of the Review. In the letter, MacAlister urges a cross-Government approach to avoid “adding new programmes or additional pots of funding into the system”, adding that the investment should be taken as an opportunity for Central Government to play a more active role in setting direction for family help services.

MacAlister also advised a “broad rethink” of children’s residential care, warning that the current system is “extremely fragile”, with a lack of secure accommodation and children being large distances from their families and communities, and a “severe lack” of homes that can meet the needs of teenagers.

Following his criticisms of the role of the private sector in the residential children’s home market, the Review Chair commented that the funding should be focused on public and not-for-profit alternatives.

“New investment should be used to rebalance away from ‘for profit’ provision towards public and not for profit options and should incentivise quality, building upon existing best practice and ensuring provision exists where it is most needed,” the letter stated.

MacAlister also advised that the Spending Review, and the Government’s COVID-19 recovery planning generally, should focus on the mental health of “uniquely vulnerable group” of children in care.

“We have heard throughout the early part of the review that this support might not always be best met through CAMHS services, which continue to face high demand, but instead by investing across health, education and social care to better train practitioners and carers in therapeutic responses to supporting children.”

The Spending Review is expected in the coming months, and MacAlister says he will submit his final report from the Care Review next year “with a full set of recommendations in the expectation that a future fiscal event will provide the investment needed for implementation.”

MacAlister’s mention of investment appears to contradict the Department for Education’s leaked contract with the Chair, which said that ““[the Department for Education] DfE cannot assume any additional funding from the Exchequer to meet the recommendations,” and that “any recommendations that require new funding must demonstrate ‘how, and over what time period, this would be offset by savings’”.

Despite a requirement for the involvement of Government officials to “support the modelling of any direct and indirect costs of potential recommendations to local authorities,” MacAlister has always maintained that the contract has not hampered the Review’s ability to recommend new funding, only that he must make the case for it.

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