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Children’s social care strategy “lacks scale, ambition, funding and pace”

A new House of Lords report criticises the government’s implementation of Care Review reforms, while analysis commissioned by leading charities in the UK reveals that Government delays to reform children’s social care could have a long-term financial impact on the taxpayer.


Children’s social care strategy “lacks scale, ambition, funding and pace”

The implementation of the Care Review was slammed as ‘unambitious and slow’ in a new House of Lords report.

Producing the report, the House of Lords Public Services Committee said the strategy had the right approach to tackle the issues with children’s social care, but did not deliver its promised ‘radical reset’.

Baroness Morris of Yardley, Chair of the Public Services Committee said the strategy is a golden opportunity, but is being wasted.

“The children’s care system is in crisis and while the government’s strategy is a step in the right direction, it falls short of delivering the immediate real time benefits to children and families that we need.

“Vulnerable young people are being failed by the system. There are shortages of every kind of care, and children are being placed in settings that do not work for them. This is untenable.

“The government’s plan has much to recommend it, but unless the proposals go further and faster, the strategy will leave many children behind. While we accept that not every reform can be introduced everywhere immediately, the government must ensure that all children and families engaged in the care system see some immediate benefit and can be sure that significant improvements and reform will follow.

The report comes after analysis last week, commissioned by major children’s charities, which warned that the government is set to spend an additional £1 billion on children's social care over 10 years unless they speed up the implementation of their reform plans.

Children’s charities including - Action for Children, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society and the NSPCC - are calling for urgent action to reform children’s social care in response to the Government’s recent strategy for children’s social care in England which has delayed urgent wholesale reform of the sector until at least 2025, costing an extra £1bn over 10 years. They say the delay will not only cost the taxpayer more in the long-term, but the effects of delaying improvements to children’s services will have severe negative impacts on children and families who require help.

According to the data, undertaken by economics and advanced data consultants Alma Economics, the choice to delay fully implementing the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care by 2 years will affect public finance by -£1bn over ten years (2033/2034), and -£2.6bn over 20 years (2043/2044).

Only last year in May 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care called for urgent reform and investment of £2.6 billion of new spending over four years to address an escalating crisis in children’s social care and start a ‘revolution’ in Family Help to prevent children entering care where possible.

Recommendations from the Care Review included the creation of Family Help Teams, a national pay scale for social workers backed by career progression routes and a requirement for all social work leaders and academics to do direct practice.

The review’s final report also called for the creation of experienced ‘expert child protection practitioners’ to lead in cases where concerns of harm to children are identified.

Additionally, the report insisted on a new National Children’s Social Care Framework to “set the direction and purpose” of a system more focused on early help; faster intervention at “drifting authorities”; IT systems that support “frictionless” information sharing and the creation of local authority staffing banks to end the high-cost reliance on agency workers.

A multi-year reform programme was put forward based on the Government beginning work immediately following the launch last year.

The Government’s response - Stable Homes, Built on Love - was published in February 2023, declaring that it would spend the two years until 2025 to trial a new approach in up to 12 local authorities, committing only £200 million in the interim.

The approach from the government will also see them testing reforms in a small number of local authorities, meaning that for at least two years, most areas will not get the changes and investment they desperately need to support and protect children.

Children’s charities say that what is needed in the intervening two years is immediate funding for family help services – ranging from children’s centres and youth clubs, to targeted support with issues like drug and alcohol misuse – as these mean families get help early enough to stop problems spiraling out of control.

Anna Feuchtwang, CEO of National Children’s Bureau, said one year on from the review’s publication there is “still a lack of urgency”.

“The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care presented a once in a generation opportunity to put the voices of children, families and communities at the heart of a new coordinated and fully integrated system that would step in early to protect and nurture vulnerable children before their problems escalate.

“As this report makes clear, delays in fully implementing the review’s findings risk costing the taxpayer millions of pounds more than it should. Inaction in changing systems, improving outcomes and allowing more of our children to fulfil their potential, has a human and a financial cost we cannot afford to ignore.”

By 2027/28, it is predicted that 10,500 additional children will be in care due to the Government delaying implementation for two years. Although this is expected to level out at around 4,500 assuming the Government implements the Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy across England.

Alma’s analysis suggests that if the Government’s reform plans are delayed two years, as currently proposed, there will be an additional ‘social cost’ of around £500 million per year over 30 years compared to the full and timely implementation of the Care Review.

“Delaying reform has a social as well as a financial cost. Children who are looked after, or who are on child in need or child protection plans, often experience significantly worse health and education outcomes, and are more likely to enter the criminal justice system or become homeless than their peers outside the social care system.”

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO at the NSPCC, said children’s social care is still in crisis on year on from the Review.

“The deep problems within the system will not go away in the next year or the year after.

“While these costs cannot now be reversed, there is still time for the Government to step up to avoid even bigger losses in the future. This Government must take bold action now to tackle this and any future Government must be ready to pick up the baton of long-term reform. That is why we are calling on all political parties to commit to a full reform of children’s social care. The children and families who need vital support deserve nothing less.”

The charities say they are making three recommendations: ‘funding for wholesale reform to children’s social care at the next fiscal opportunity to provide certainty to the sector; ‘cross party commitment to wholesale reform’, as well as a Cabinet-level Minister for Children to “‘oversee the full implementation of reforms to children’s social care, coordinate policy affecting children across government,and advocate for children’s rights and interests in national policy’.”

The report concludes: “There is still time to rebuild children’s social care. But we must start now.”

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