Review Chair says too many services having disrespectful interactions with families
Josh MacAlister has warned that there is mounting evidence of disrespectful interactions some services are having with families, and that the experience for too many parents and families “lacks dignity and respect”.
The Chair of the Review of Children’s Social Care said too many services having “disrespectful interactions” with families at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) annual conference.
Josh MacAlister said rigid compliance with process and rules can have a “dehumanising impact” when they stand in the way of seeing children and families as human beings, and that the experience for too many parents and families “lacks dignity and respect”.
MacAlister, former Chief Executive of Frontline, told the audience of children’s social care leaders of the many amazing stories the Review heard of social workers working to keep families on track and children safe and connected.
“Holding the pen with a family to make sure they get access to benefits, creatively supporting a parent to relocate their job so that they spend less time commuting, bringing the wider family into a conversation about safety and change for the first time, going with a 17 year to their university admissions interview,” MacAlister said. “So many examples, and at the centre of these stories are special individuals who have gone above and beyond.”
However, he also warned of the trends of “painful stories” emerging from his review, including ‘intergenerational cycles’ of care where despite professionals being involved, significant sums of money spent and numerous assessments, parents who themselves entered care are now losing a child to the same system.
MacAlister also said the Review heard “too many stories” of bewilderment and loneliness from care leavers who are too often sent into the world with too few adults or relationships to guide and support them in life.
Victims are also being groomed into perpetrators, MacAlister said, as teenagers are being “ruthlessly exploited” and services are failing to “collectively grip” the issues involved.
MacAlister also cautioned that many families and people in the sector did not have enough consistency of having the same social worker.
“Too many foster carers, adopters, kinship carers, professionals and children wearily telling me that they have another new social worker to work with, make introductions to and explain their situation to,” MacAlister said.
MacAlister reiterated many of the points from the Review’s first major publication ‘The Case for Change’, including the assertion that the children’s social care system is “balanced too far towards investigating over helping”.
“Last year there were 135,000 section 47 enquiries resulting in no child protection plan – there’s been a 129% increase in these enquiries in 10 years, combined with a 35 percent real terms drop in spending on support for families.
“I know that not all ‘no further actions’ in the 135,000 mean that nothing happened or that the investigation was unwarranted. But the sheer increase in the number of these investigations over recent years demands, at the very least, that we stop and think about how we are working with families.”
MacAlister said, however, that the issue extends beyond just section 47 enquiries with families telling the Review of being “cajoled onto Child in Need plans that come with little meaningful help, knowing that if they decline to engage there could be a threat of more serious involvement.” The ex-Frontline boss said the Review had also heard “time and again” from parents of children with disabilities that they were met with safeguarding action simply for asking for support.
“Alongside these issues it is entirely consistent to want better quality and speedier decision making in relation to significant harm, or the risk of significant harm,” MacAlister said. “We need to be more decisive in making decisions if it is clear that support will not lead to enough change with families, keeping children at the centre of our decision making.”
Placing his Review in the context of 2011’s Munro Review and 2009’s report on child protection by Lord Laming, MacAlister said those in the sector will need to “step out of their comfort zone” if his recommendations are to translate into “substantial, positive and lasting solutions”.
“One thing that I believe will need to be different is that those of us, the people who work in and around this system – locally and nationally- must dig deep, step out of our comfort zone and come up with the recommendations needed – even if those recommendations run counter to our own prior work or call into question the way we’ve done things until now.”
“I know that all of you are slogging your guts out and many of you are running impressive services and you have just cause to be proud. But important parts of our children social care system are broken, outcomes for too many children are too poor, the experience for too many parents and families lack dignity and respect, and variations in performance of services and involvements with families are a public policy concern and moral imperative that need addressing.”
MacAlister told the audience: “Refracting the sharp light of these realities I am sharing with you through a thick lens of ‘context’ isn’t good enough anymore. You are not bystanders in children’s social care – you are the leaders of it with the power to make a difference for the most vulnerable children in society and I want to hear from you what future changes might ask of you.”
“For this review to be different we need to stand together in this uncomfortable space and sit with criticism. It won’t make you wrong or bad or to blame. The problems we’re facing are not new or the fault of any one service or person. But they are big and that must surely ask us to be bigger too.”
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