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Four in ten children could have avoided coming into care in different system, report says

A new report from the County Councils Network and Newton argues that a “reshaped, family-focused way of delivering support” could see the number of children being placed into care reduced, but warns that sustainable investment in services is required to enable this.

15/03/22

Four in ten children could have avoided coming into care in different system, report says

Tens of thousands of young people could live safely with their families and communities rather than in the care of local authorities, a report suggests.

Analysis in The Future of Children’s Social Care report shows that under current trends the number of children in care could rise to 95,000 by the end of 2025 with county leaders warning that the “status quo is no longer an option”.

Based on case reviews with practitioners, the report finds up to 39% of children could have avoided coming into care had the system had worked differently and there was more support in place for families on the verge of crisis. The report says that for up to 34% of children in care, opportunities to support a return to family or community are “not being properly explored”.

The report proposes a reshaped, family-focused way of delivering support, which aims to both reduce the number of children being placed in care and increase the number of children safely returning to their families and communities from care. But to enable this, the report outlines that sustainable local and national funding is vital to allow investment in services.

The report will feed into the Review of Children’s Social Care, led by former Frontline Chief Executive Josh MacAlister. Ahead of the review’s publication, the report concludes that local authorities should remain at the centre of a reshaped care system, because they are best placed to effectively co-ordinate change with public sector partners and across other service areas, such as adult social care.

The so-called ‘optimised delivery model’ believes based on projected figures that, if adopted across England by 2025, that as many as 31,000 young people could live safely with their families and communities rather than in the care of local authorities.

It also argues that the model would allow social workers, who spend an average of average of 50% of their time is spent in meetings, completing forms, and IT tasks, could spend a further 25% working directly supporting families – more than an hour extra every week for each child currently in care and on a child protection plan in England.

In putting together an ‘optimised model for children’s social care’, Newton spoke with over 200 individuals, including those with experience in the care system and frontline practitioners. Their research also incorporated ‘deep dive’ reviews with six local authorities, and analysis of over 450,000 operational and financial local and national data sources.

To enable the new model, significant support is required from central government, including the certainty of a long-term funding settlement for children’s services, because addressing projected spend does not eradicate the underlying funding gap facing councils.

The report recommends £205m a year is spent by councils in England on ‘edge of care’ services which would support those children and young people either at risk of coming into care or those who could return to their families and community, where it is safe to do so.

Cllr Keith Glazier, Children’s Services Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said the status quo is “no longer an option”.

“This report shows the art of the possible from both ends of the care system. It places councils at the centre of delivering a renewed system where the focus is on supporting children and families, enabling them to stay together, as well as maximising the possibility of children returning to their families where it is safe to do so.

“Of course, many young people will sadly still require local authority care, but under this new model thousands would not reach that point.”

Commenting on the release Charlotte Ramsden, Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) President said the report is “a helpful contribution” to current conversations which reiterates several important issues which the representative body has been raising with Government.

“Analysis in the report shows that if we continue as we are the number of children in care will significantly increase, as will the financial, and human, costs associated with this.

“Although care can be the right thing for some children, we should be doing all we can to support families to stay together safely, in line with the Children Act 1989.

“The report describes a blueprint for change, the role of local authorities, central government, and others in enabling this, and the benefits it could offer if adopted across the country which I’m sure will be of interest to the sector as debates around the future of the children’s social care system continue.”

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