Education Secretary launches wide-ranging review of children’s social care

Independent review will address what the Government calls ‘poor outcomes’ for children in care as well as strengthening families to improve vulnerable children’s lives.

15/01/21

Education Secretary launches wide-ranging review of children’s social care

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will today (Friday 15 January) launch a wholesale independent review of children’s social care will set out to radically reform the system.

The Government says the review will aim to ‘raise the bar’ for vulnerable children across the country, implementing a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment that pledged to look at the care system to make sure children and young adults get the support they need.

In a speech to children’s charities and sector organisations, the Education Secretary announced that he has appointed Josh MacAlister, former teacher and founder of the fast-track social work training organisation Frontline, to lead the review. MacAlister will step down from his role as Chief Executive of Frontline to lead the review.

The Government says the review will reshape how children interact with the care system, looking at the process from referral through to becoming looked after. It will address major challenges such as the increase in numbers of looked after children, as well as what the Government labels “the inconsistencies in children’s social care practice, outcomes across the country, and the failure of the system to provide enough stable homes for children.”

Running throughout the review will be the voices and experiences of children, young people or adults who have been looked-after, or who have received help or support from a social worker.

“We have known for some time that despite the best efforts of hardworking and dedicated social workers, the children’s social care system is not delivering a better quality of life and improved outcomes for those it is designed to help,” the Education Secretary said, adding: “This review will be bold, wide-ranging and will not shy away from exposing problems where they exist.”

During the virtual launch event today, Josh MacAlister will launch a ‘Call for Advice’ to help shape the early work of the review and invite applications for an ‘Experts by Experience’ group to advise on how to include the voices of people with ‘lived experience’ of the children’s social care system.

Claiming the review will ‘listen deeply’ and ‘think boldly’, Chair of the Review Josh MacAlister said: “If 2020 showed us the grit, commitment and creativity of social workers, teachers and other professionals, then 2021 is our chance to think afresh about how we support children without the safety, stability and love that many of us take for granted.”

“Deep down I think many of those working in the children’s social care system and certainly many of those who have experience of it, know that radical change is needed. My commitment is that this review will deliver a wide-ranging plan to extend the joy, growth and safety of childhood and the esteem, love and security of family life to all children.”

The announcement has been generally welcomed by those in the sector, but some have noted that the context of shrinking social care budgets was not mentioned in the announcement. The National Children’s Bureau said: “The review has the power to deliver real change if it keeps its promise to put lived experience of children and families at its heart and if it addresses chronic underfunding of children’s services.”

Lee Pardy-McLaughlin, Principal Social Worker at Stoke-on-Trent Council, said the review was “timely and urgently required,” adding that it was “a great opportunity to take stock, listen and bring about reform and change to a system that requires primary, and regulatory change.”

Children who have been in care comprise 25% of the homeless and 24% of the prison population. Over a third of care leavers (39%) are not in education, employment or training, compared to 13% of all 19-21-year-olds and just 13% progressed to Higher Education by age 19 compared to 43% of all other pupils.

The Department for Education has also published terms of reference for the review, setting out the themes and questions that will be addressed and how it will respond to the changing needs of children in care or at risk of going into care, especially given the impact of the pandemic.

These will include how to improve accountability for those responsible for children’s outcomes, how to ensure children have a positive experience of care, and how to support and strengthen families – helping children stay safely with their families where possible.

The Education Secretary also announced that the Adoption Support Fund will continue beyond March 2021, helping new adoptive and special guardianship families overcome challenges through therapies like family support sessions, or music and play activities. Nearly 64,000 families have benefitted from the fund since it was launched in 2015.

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