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Care Review recommends new ‘expert social worker’ role and Family Help Service

The long-awaited final report from the review of children’s social care calls for a ‘fundamental reset’ to the system, proposing a bolstered early help service and cooperatives to tackle the ‘broken’ care market.

22/05/22

Care Review recommends new ‘expert social worker’ role and Family Help Service

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England has published its final report calling for a ‘radical reset’ of the system.

Suggesting major reforms to the care system, including a new expert social worker role and bolstered early help, Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Review said change is “desperately needed”.

“There are too many stories of lives lived isolated, unfulfilled or cut short. The time is gone for half measures, tweaking or quick fixes. A fundamental reset is now needed and the review has produced a plan to do just that.

The Review estimates that the lifetime costs of adverse outcomes of children’s social care is £23 billion each year.

The number of children in care has increased by 25% since 2009/10 and projections show that by 2032 there will be close to 100,000 children in care, up from 80,000 today. The total cost of children’s social care, the Review team estimates, will be £15 billion per year, up from £10 billion per year now.

“Change is now both morally urgent and financially unavoidable. We have a stark choice – keep pouring money into a faltering system or reform and invest to improve people’s lives and make the system sustainable for the future.

Improving early help

New proposals from the Review include strengthening early help and intervention with struggling families by creating a new ‘Family Help’ service. The new service, which the Review estimates will cost roughly £2 billion to set up, will be based in trusted community settings like schools will provide support to families struggling with problems like domestic abuse and poor mental health.

Noting the frequent changeovers of staff and services working with children, the proposed Family Help Teams will continue to work with families throughout child protection processes and continue to support families if a child is removed.

Expert social worker role

The Review also recommends strengthening child protection through a new expert social worker role to jointly work alongside Family Help teams where there are serious child protection concerns, and boost multi-agency and information sharing arrangements.

The new expert social worker will become involved where a decision needs to be made about whether a child may be at risk of significant harm, and what action might need to be taken.

“At these critical moments, we recommend that an Expert Child Protection Practitioner, who is an experienced social worker with demonstrated knowledge and skills, comes alongside Family Help to co-work and is responsible for making key decisions about what should happen to a child. The role of the Expert Child Protection Practitioner should be to undertake joint visits, chair child protection planning, and lead multi-agency professionals who will input into decisions about what should happen to a child,” the report states.

The new role will be open to current social workers who entered the profession before its introduction recognised based on their experience, however in future, new social workers would need to have passed a five year Early Career Framework to undertake the role.

The move is hoped to combat what the Review describes as the current system’s overly “proceduralized and ‘vertical’ accountability”, citing a recent study which found that English social workers were the least likely to have confidence in their own or colleague’s decisions, in comparison to American, Finnish and Norwegian child protection workers. Describing child protection conferences as the main check on decision-making in the process, the report says it is ‘questionable’ whether they are working effectively.

“Parents with lived experience who have spoken to the review have explained how conferences can leave them upset, confused and less likely to engage. Social workers tend to come to the conference with a set viewpoint and there is little disagreement between professionals or critical interrogation of information,” the Review stated.

The Review also recommends spending £253 million over five years to recruit and retain enough social workers, as well as national payscales. national pay scales to "provide a desirable career pathway to remain in practice, specialise and be rewarded
through higher pay that reflects expertise."

Also included in the recommendations is for social workers to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time working directly with children, as well as reducing the use of agency social workers.

"We need to reduce the use of agency social work, which is costly and works against providing stable professional relationships for children and families, by developing new rules and regional staff banks. Taken together, this will mean social workers work with a smaller number of children and families, with more knowledge and skill, and with more available time and resources to do intensive life changing work for children families,” the report states.

Tackling the broken care ‘market’

The Review is also recommending launching new dedicated bodies – called Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) – to “bring an end to profiteering in the children’s social care market” and recruit thousands of new foster carers. The cooperatives are suggested to be local authority-owned regional bodies which will use their “scale and expertise” to provide a wider choice of homes for children closer to where they live.

“The need to fundamentally change the way children’s homes, foster care and secure accommodation are commissioned, recruited to, managed and run, goes beyond addressing the immediate challenges of a shortage of homes, weak market oversight and high profit making and costs,” the report says.

“Changes need to transform the care that is available for children when they need it. Care needs to be more tailored for teenagers (the fastest growing group entering care), less binary for children who can continue to safely see their families, and significantly better at keeping children close to their community, school, friends and brothers and sisters.”

The Review anticipates that up to 20 RCCs could be created across England, suggesting that the Government selects one or two local authorities from each region to oversee their setup. The new RCCs will be inspected on a new specialist framework developed by Ofsted and will have sufficiency duty in their area, and therefore planning for future needs. They will also be responsible for running and creating new public sector fostering, residential and secure care services in the region, as well as commissioning not-for-profit and private sector-provided care for children as necessary. Local authorities will no longer perform these functions but the Review says they will have ‘direct involvement’ in the running of RCCs and children will continue to be in the care of the local authority.

Secure care

The report lambasts the ‘abysmal’ state of child detention in England, saying Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) or Secure Training Centres (STCs) are wholly unsuitable for children. It says these institutions “should be phased out within the next ten years” and replaced by local secure children’s homes or ‘Secure Schools’ run or commissioned by RCCs, as they are “almost always better able to provide a more caring, less institutionalised and more supportive environment for young people to recover, learn and eventually return to their family, carer or the community.”

Protected characteristic

The Review says that having a good home, qualifications, a fulfilling job, loving and trusting relationships, and good mental and physical health are the foundations of a good life, but notes that care experienced people often struggle more than most to achieve these.

It is estimated that 26% of the homeless population have care experience and 24% of the prison population in England have spent time in care. Two in five (41%) of all 19–21-year-old care leavers are NEET (not in employment, education or training) compared to 12% of all other young people in the same age group. adults who spent time in care between 1971-2001 were 70% more likely to die prematurely than those who did not.

It is proposing ‘Five Missions’ to tackle these inequalities that those who grew up in care often face. These ‘Missions’ include goals such as no young person leaving care without at least two loving relationships, doubling the proportion of care leavers attending university, and creating at least 3,500 new well-paid jobs and apprenticeships for care leavers each year. It also sets the Government other targets to reduce – and subsequently eradicate – care leaver homelessness, and increase the life expectancy of care experienced people, by narrowing health inequalities with the wider population.

The Review is recommending that these five aims can be supported by introducing a protected characteristic to recognise the lifelong impact of being care-experienced and reduce stigma and discrimination.

“Hearing testimony from care experienced people sharing the discrimination they have experienced, even from a very young age, it is clear that such discrimination can be similar in nature to other groups that have a legally protected characteristic under the Equality Act (2010),” the report said.

The report notes concerns that making care experience a protected characteristic might inadvertently increase the stigma people face and says Government should “give due consideration” to these views, but suggests the introduction is necessary and, like other ‘hidden’ protected characteristics, care experienced people would be able to choose whether to share their past care experience or not.

Implementation

Major changes such as those recommended by the Review will, however, come at a price. The Review is recommending an injection of £2.6 billion as part of a five-year reform programme to reverse the current trends in children’s social care and improve outcomes. It is hoped that in ten year’s time, 30,000 more children will be living safely with their families.

The report proposes that the changes should be funded through a single comprehensive reform programme to avoid the re-creation of small pots of funding and overlapping programmes, as well as supporting whole system change led locally. A £46 million fund will be offered in year one, rising to £987 million in year two and an eye-watering £1.257 billion in year three. The money, which the Review says must be new spending, can be funded by bringing forward spending that is forecast to be needed over the coming years.

“Investment in the comprehensive reform programme outlined by this review will deliver cashable savings within children’s social care that can be reinvested for children and families over the medium-term, reduce wider public spending pressures and also provide social benefit in improved outcomes for children and families,” the report says.

Most of the funding (roughly £2 billion) will be poured into setting up Family Help. A further £253 million will ensure there are enough skilled social workers and £76 million will be used to recruit 9,000 more foster carers and set up the RCCs. £23 million will also be earmarked to “unlock the potential of family networks” to bring parity between the support given to foster carers and Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) / kinship Child Arrangement Orders (CAO).

Roll out

The report says that government will need to start work on actions immediately and during the first six months publish a White Paper which sets out a full response to the Review. From here, government will need to consult on the most significant changes it intends to make through a new Bill in the final session of this Parliament.

It recommends that a National Children’s Social Care Framework is developed to bring together in one place the objectives, outcomes, indicators and practice guidance to support system improvement.

In the 18-month period between January 2023 and Royal Assent of a new Children’s Social Care Bill, the Review says that implementation should focus on the delivery of recommendations which do not require legislation, or where foundations need to be laid in preparation for legislation being passed in Spring 2024.

Photo credit: Mike Tulip

Read the report in full: https://childrenssocialcare.independent-review.uk/final-report/#

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