Care Review publishes its response to Case for Change feedback

The Review of Children’s Social Care in England has published a summary of the submissions it received in response to its early findings document ‘The Case for Change’.

14/10/21

Care Review publishes its response to Case for Change feedback

The Care Review team say they had more than 320 responses to its “early thinking” document, with more than 100 responses on behalf of organisations.

In a blog published on the Review’s website, it said that there was general agreement on the need for children’s social care to have a clear purpose and the usefulness of the proposed definition of family help.

However, it said there was “clear disagreements” in some areas, such as the role of community in supporting families.

“Some respondents, like the LGA, felt that it is not the responsibility of children’s social care to strengthen communities while others, like New Local, felt that there is an opportunity for children’s social care services to support communities to build their own capacity,” the blog said.

The balance supporting families and intervention was also said to have sparked a lot of debate.

“Many of those working in the field were concerned about any move to separate the work of child protection from family help, rightly highlighting that both were on a continuum.”

“Those with lived experience were more likely to share that the power and compulsion of the child protection process makes seeking and getting help from the same service harder. The Review will continue to hold space for this debate and test opinions around what some of the answers to this dilemma might be.”

Responding to claims that the Review’s definitions of ‘statutory’ and ‘non-statutory’ spending were misleading, it argued that, although open to misinterpretation, its definition was not inaccurate. It said that there was a suggestion that it should use a ‘safeguarding’ and ‘non-safeguarding’ categorisation instead, but pointed out that there were limitations with this categorisation too.

Many respondents complained that the Review should be more directly critical of the Government for spending cuts and rising poverty, or to attribute worsening outcomes in children’s social care to these factors.

Responding, the Review team said that its acknowledgment of cuts in spending on family help and wider support services was welcomed by many, adding: “Even if the Review did have the broader welfare system in its scope (we don’t) there would still be problems in children’s social care that need addressing, recognising as we must that services can either widen or narrow inequalities. Many of the problems described in the Case for Change were present in 2010 when spending levels were higher. Child welfare inequalities must be understood, accounted for and addressed and the review’s recommendations will have a focus on this.”

The regulator for children’s social care, Ofsted, were also said to query the document’s view that too many families are being unnecessarily investigated. In the Case for Change, the Review argued that growing number of section 47s which do not result in a child protection plan was “a worrying trend”, reflecting an increasingly adversarial approach that makes it harder for services to help families and build trust with parents in order to keep children safe.

The Care Review says it is now working with Ofsted to interrogate the area of child protection investigations further – including whether inspections look equally for evidence of under and over investigation.

“The Review accepts Ofsted’s position that 84,000 children had a child in need plan 45 days after the start of a section 47 enquiry. However, we have not seen evidence to suggest that a section 47 enquiry is the most appropriate mechanism for families to receive support under a child in need plan, or evidence to justify this volume of investigations or the rise over the last decade,” the Review team said.

“This is an emotive area and any querying of the steady rise in investigations can be countered by pointing to one of the dreadful situations of a child being significantly harmed. But this is not a simple either/or situation. We can be both too driven by investigation with some families while failing to protect some children.”

The Care Review, and the subject of how social workers should engage with it, was debated at the COMPASS Jobs Fair Birmingham last week. Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work at Kingston University, a panellist for the debate highlighted the context of poverty and austerity surrounding this latest review.

“We've seen cuts in terms of help for families. We’ve seen cuts in terms of their welfare benefits. We've seen more families getting into difficulty, and less assistance available. And we've seen a workforce which has largely been destabilised. We have now a dependence in some areas on agency social workers running at 20-30%. We have different managers coming and going,” Jones said. “All of those are things which do not help us to provide good services for children.”

Professor Jones added that the Review was a “lost opportunity” to reinvent residential children’s services and bring them back within the communities where children were as a part of that community resource.

Panellists Annabel Goddard, Post-Graduate Researcher and Foster Carer, and Ian Gould, a care-experienced former Probation Manager, shared concerns that the review would encourage moves towards more centralised services.

Gould was also concerned that Government announcements of changes to the amount of support provided to some children in residential care, ahead of the review, would define and limit support for older children.

“As someone who is brought up in the care system, I think we need to be there for children for as long as they need us. We need to afford them safeguards and protections for as long as they need them, like any ordinary family would expect,” Gould said. Referring to the system in Northern Ireland, Gould said children in residential care can stay for as long as they want in that environment. “These were the kinds of things that I was hoping would come out of Case for Change,” adding that he felt the Review was being rushed through and dissenters were not being listened to.

Nushra Mansuri, Social Worker and Assistant Professor in Social Work at Coventry University said that Case for Change did not give a fair representation of the sector and did not address the impact on services of shortages in social work, even though this was a problem highlighted by Lord Laming as far back as 2003 in his report into the death of Victoria Climbie.

“One of the things [Lord Laming] said is: have we got enough social workers?”

“If you constantly remove the resources systematically over the years, it doesn't matter how good you are.”

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