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Government promises £200m to implement Care Review recommendations

The Department for Education has announced its response to the recommendations made by three landmark reviews last year, but many in the sector say the plans do not go far enough.

03/02/23

Government promises £200m to implement Care Review recommendations

The government has announced plans to better support vulnerable children to stay with their families in safe and loving homes, as part of an overhaul of children’s social care.

Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho announced plans to implement a “new, ambitious and wide-ranging” Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy to “transform the current care system to focus on more early support for families, reducing the need for crisis response at a later stage.”

The government has promised £200 million of funding over two years to implement the plans, despite Josh MacAlister’s Care Review recommending £2.6 billion over four years.

Included in the announcement were plans to pilot a new approach to Family Help in 12 local authority areas, as well as the development of a new Child Protection Lead Practitioner role and ‘prioritising’ children in care living in homes close to their own support networks.

Also included was plans to expand the children’s social care workforce with local authorities being supported to recruit 500 new child and family social worker apprentices and reduce the over-reliance on agency social workers, as well as introducing an Early Career Framework to help retain more social workers.

The plans come in response to three landmark reviews completed last year, namely Josh MacAlister’s Care Review, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel into the tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the market study by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The reviews said that the current care system is often fragmented, siloed, and struggling to meet the needs of children and families across England.

“Children in care deserve the same love and stability as everyone else. Yet we’ve seen from the two tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson that more needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable children,” Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho said.

“Our wide-ranging reforms will put strong relationships at the heart of the care system. From supporting our brilliant foster carers, kinship carers and social workers to getting early help to families and improving children’s homes, we want every child to get the support and protection they need.”

Organisations and professionals across the sector have welcomed the long-awaited response to the landmark reviews, but called for more detail on some of the plans.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said the government is offering “only a piecemeal approach to tackling longstanding issues within children’s care.”

In a statement released yesterday, BASW said: “It looks unlikely to deliver the serious strategy we hope for, prioritising much needed funding and a comprehensive plan to fix workload, the experience of children and families, and the crisis in the workforce.”

Many also voiced concern about the relatively small amount of funding made available to achieve the lofty aims of the plans, with just £200 million promised over two years – far short of the Care Review’s recommendations of £2.6 billion over four years.

The British Association of social workers also criticised the plans to ramp up social worker recruitment, saying they fall “well short” of what is required.

“Despite record levels of social workers leaving children’s posts in English councils, the Government still appears to have no clear and funded plan on how to retain social workers in the children’s care system and ensure their working conditions are fit for their role. The message from social workers is clear: high caseloads and complex cases increasing demand on the system has led to this crisis and the failure to address this sufficiently is disappointing.

“Extra funds for the recruitment of 500 children’s social care apprentices are positive but falls well short of what is required. BASW maintains the need for a national recruitment strategy of social workers as well as a national review of their pay, terms, and conditions to make sure the profession is given the support and value is deserves.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), which represents local authority leaders in children’s social care, welcomed the announcement, saying the system needs urgent change and that they want to work with government, and others, to achieve this.

ADCS said that the reforms will need to ‘dovetail’ with forthcoming reforms to special educational needs and education, and that the strategy’s emphasis on multi-agency working will be essential to its success.

“When the government consults on updating the Working Together guidance all safeguarding partners will need clarity on their responsibilities and how they will be held to account to ensure that they deliver for children and families,” Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said.

Mr Crocker said that directors are pleased that the government has listened to their advice and is taking a ‘test and learn’ approach to implementation.

“It is important for the sector to have the space to explore what works and, crucially, take the time to pause and re-evaluate where things don’t work as intended. Collaborative commissioning may offer part of the solution to the complex set of issues we currently face in relation to children’s placements, but it is unlikely to achieve the desired results without a shift away from profiteering in the children’s placements market. There is need for greater government action here.”

“The current financial context for local authorities is tough and so any additional investment to fund local pathfinders before wider rollout is welcome, however, the level of funding beyond the next two years remains unclear. Getting change right for children requires proper, equitable resourcing. ADCS is keen to work closely with government and others during this implementation phase and will be responding to the consultations published today following discussions with our members. We encourage others in the sector to do the same to help shape these important reforms. We need the buy in of our partners in health, schools and others to achieve real change.”

Become, a charity representing children in care and care leavers, said it was “extremely disappointed” by the plans, adding that without more ambitious action and investment now, the government is “effectively putting 82,000 children in care at the bottom of the pile.”

“There are elements of the Government’s plans that will make a difference, including steps in the right direction to #EndTheCareCliff of support that young people leaving the system experience,” the charity said in a statement, adding: “But there is little here to tackle the big issue of instability in the system, which currently sees 7 in 10 children in care experiencing a change in home, school, or social worker each year – and 16- and 17-year-olds will still not be getting the care they deserve.”

“Behind the Government’s words sit plans that will take a long time to be implemented and, in the meantime, the proposed small-scale pilots and limited resources will not bring the urgent change needed for children in the care system right now.”

Katharine Sacks-Jones, CEO at Become, said: “After decades of underinvestment, the care system is now in crisis and the £200 million announced today won’t even scratch the surface.”

“We are extremely disappointed that the government is choosing to invest so little in our country’s most vulnerable children.”

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