Care-experienced people worried review could be tokenistic, secretive, and rushed

A survey of care-experienced people, conducted before this month’s announcement that Frontline founder Josh MacAlister would lead the review, finds that the vast majority feel it is ‘extremely important’ that people with care experience should be represented within the leadership of the Care Review.

A newly-released survey of care-experienced people (CEP) taken in October-November 2020 highlighted concerns about secrecy, tokenism, and an absence of meaningful change for any future review of children’s social care in England.

The survey of 163 care-experienced people, conducted in October-November 2020 by Our Care Our Say, also exposed worries that the focus of the review will be saving money, that the review leaders will lack understanding of the care experience, and that the voices of older CEP will be ignored.

The research was conducted before the recent announcement that Frontline chief Josh MacAlister would lead the review.

Releasing the findings, Our Care Our Say said the survey results make “a significant contribution to inform how the Care Review should be carried out and what it should address.”

The vast majority of respondents (81%) said it was extremely important that people with care experience are involved at all stages of a Care Review in England (planning, gathering evidence, analysis, recommendations and outputs). 78% also felt it was extremely important that care experienced people of all ages should be represented within the leadership of the review.

However, the Government says that the voices of children, young people and adults with experience of care will run throughout the review, adding that “their experiences will be considered and reflected sensitively and appropriately, with their views included in full in the work.”

At the launch of the review, chairman Josh MacAlister announced an ‘Experts by Experience’ group to advise him on how to include the voices of people with a ‘lived experience’ of the children’s social care system and has since left open the possibility of having a care-experienced co-chair.

Whether these announcements have quelled the concerns raised in the survey is not known, with many respondents questioning the likelihood of tangible change.

“Is this the time people are actually going to listen?” one respondent asked, while another questioned whether the review “will be led and steered in the way the government or local authorities want it to go, rather than be a genuine review for the purpose of change.”

There was also fear that the review will ask the wrong questions, or speak to a limited number of people, with respondents worrying that participation will be a “tick-box exercise” and that the participation of CEP will be “purely tokenism”.

Respondents also expressed concerns that the views of professionals will be favoured over those with lived experience of care.

“I am concerned that it will be a concentration of social work professionals and that the voices of those who have been in care will be muffled or drowned out by the voices of those who position themselves as subject matter experts,” one respondent said.

Johnny Hoyle, a member of the group organising the survey and someone with experience of growing up in care, said there is a feeling from the care experienced community that they have been speaking out for a long time, but do not yet feel they have been listened to.

“The report clearly conveys the views of care experience people about how the review should be run and how they should be involved. By also setting out plainly people’s fears, those organising the review can pay close attention, to ensure that the way in which people with direct experience are involved is positive.”

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England said: “The priorities put forward in this report echo many of the things that both children in care and children leaving care have been saying to me.”

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