“This is the start of a journey to change the culture and dramatically reform the children’s social care system”, Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary.
The independent review led by Josh McAlister is seen as an opportunity to reset children’s social care that:
- Provides intensive help to families in crisis
- Acts decisively in response to abuse
- Unlocks the potential wider family networks to raise children
- Puts lifelong loving relationships at the heart of the care system and
- Lays the foundations for a good life for those who have been in care.
Key recommendations of the final report
Focusing on helping families.
- For families who need help, there must be a fundamental shift in the children’s social care response so that they receive “more responsive, respectful and effective” support.
Family Help’ should be introduced to replace ‘targeted early help’ and ‘child in need’ work. This new service would be delivered by multi-disciplinary teams based in community settings.
Strengthening the social workforce
- Where concerns about significant harm to a child emerge, an ‘Expert Child Protection Practitioner’, an experienced social worker, should co-work alongside the Family Help Team with responsibility for making key decisions. “This co-working will provide an expert second perspective and remove the need for breakpoints and handovers.”
- Information sharing should be strengthened through a five-year challenge to address cultural barriers, clarify legislation and guidance, and use technology to achieve frictionless sharing of information.
- A more tailored and coherent response is needed to harms outside of the home, like county lines, criminal or sexual exploitation or abuse between peers.
A bespoke child protection pathway – through a Child Community Safety Plan – should be set up so that the police, social care and others can provide a robust child protection response.
- The professional development offered to social workers should be vastly improved with training and development, which provides progression through a five-year Early Career Framework linked to national pay scales.
The barriers which needlessly divert social workers from spending time with children and families should be identified and removed.
The use of agency social work, “which is costly and works against providing stable professional relationships for children and families”, should be reduced by developing new rules and regional staff banks.
Action is also needed to improve the knowledge and skill of the wider workforce that supports children and families.
- A National Children’s Social Care Framework is needed to set the direction and purpose for the system, supported by meaningful indicators that bring transparency and learning.
The government should appoint a National Practice Group to build practice guides that would set out the best-known ways of achieving the objectives set by the National Framework. Multi-agency safeguarding arrangements should be clarified “to put beyond doubt their strategic role, supported by improved accountability, learning and transparency”.
- The Government should update the funding formula for children’s social care to better direct resources to where they are most needed.
Inspection should be aligned to take a more rounded understanding of “being child-focused” and to better reflect what matters most to children and families, alongside greater transparency about how judgements are made.
- The Government should intervene more decisively in inadequate and drifting authorities, with permanent Regional Improvement Commissioners to oversee progress across regions.
Greater partnership working
- To boost parental engagement where there are serious concerns, parents should have representation and support to help navigate the child protection process. “To enable learning, there should be more transparency about decisions made and outcomes of children in the family courts.”
- Before decisions are made which place children into the care system, more must be done to bring wider family members and friends into decision making. This should start with a high-quality family group decision-making process that invites families to develop a family-led plan to care for the child or children.
In some cases, this should lead to a “Family Network Plan”, where a local authority can fund and support family members to care for the child.
- Special guardians and kinship carers with a Child Arrangement Order should receive a new statutory financial allowance, legal aid and statutory kinship leave. A wider set of informal kinship carers should get a comprehensive support package.
The placement market
- Local authorities should be helped to take back control of the care system by establishing new Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs). “They will take on responsibility for the creation and running of all new public sector fostering, residential and secure care in a region, and commissioning all not-for-profit and private sector provided care for children as necessary.
RCCs’ scale and specialist capabilities will address the current weaknesses in the system and establish organisations able to transform the care system for the future.” Local authorities will have direct involvement in the running of RCCs “, but to work, they must be mandated rather than voluntary arrangements”.
Children will continue to be in the care of local authorities.
- There should be a ‘new deal’ with foster carers. “We must give foster carers the support networks and training needed to provide the best care for children, and then have greater trust in foster carers making the day to day decisions which affect children’s lives.”
The Government should immediately launch a new national foster carer recruitment programme to approve 9,000 new foster carers over three years.
- Children in care “currently have a plethora of different professionals in their lives, but too few adults who are unequivocally on their side and able to amplify their voice”.
This system should be simplified by replacing a number of existing roles with truly independent advocacy for children that is opt-out rather than opt-in.
Increasing support for children who have been in care
- Five ambitious missions are needed so that care experienced people secure: loving relationships; quality education; a decent home; fulfilling work; and good health as the foundations for a good life.
These are ambitious and address some long standing issues; it also is recognised that careful consideration will have to be given as to how these recommendations can be implemented and how they will be resourced. As the Review acknowledges, reform and investment go hand in hand. One is not effective without the other.
The Government’s response to the review
The Government is committed to major reforms to improve and engage in a fundamental shift in children’s social care.
As part of the plans, the government has announced that it will be:
- Establishing a National Implementation Board
- Develop a National Children’s Social Care Framework.
- Boost efforts to recruit more foster carers
- Increase support for social workers, including on leadership, recruitment and retention.
- Seven areas of England will receive funding to set up Family Hubs, which will offer early help and intervention will receive funding.
- Local authorities will also receive funding for schemes that support vulnerable children to remain engaged in their education and strengthen links between social care and education.
- Funding will also be provided to LAs for the continued delivery of the social workers in schools.
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Disclaimer: The contents of this guide are for information and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice