A revolution in family help

An independent review has called for a ‘radical reset’ of children’s social care

Councils want to do all they can to keep children and young people safe, and to help them thrive.

The final report of the independent review of children’s social care in England, published in May, recognises that councils are best placed to do that. It also recognises and builds on much of the excellent practice already taking place locally, while offering recommendations to tackle some of our most significant challenges.

This report reflects many issues that councils have been raising for some time, including: the need to invest further in early help for children and families; more support to keep children with their families wherever possible; better support for kinship carers; making sure that we have the right homes for children in care; and ensuring better futures for those leaving care.

There is much to support in this review. For example, it recognises the importance of tackling issues outside the remit of children’s social care, but that impact on it, such as poverty and inequality, pressures on health visiting and social housing, domestic abuse, mental health, and immigration and asylum.

Without addressing these, the review is correct in its assertion that “reforms to children’s social care risk treating the symptoms and not the cause”.

We strongly support plans to improve information sharing between councils and their partners. This is an issue that too often features in serious case reviews and action is needed to finally overcome the persistent challenges to improvement, including ensuring that information teams have the capacity and skills to make best use of data.

“The recommendations require significant funds to deliver”

A ‘National children’s social care framework’ will also give clarity to the sector, while providing a clear ambition with which all government departments and partners can align themselves.

Elsewhere, though, the LGA has concerns around plans for ‘regional care cooperatives’ (RCCs). While there is a clear argument for working collaboratively to provide specialist placements, and on more strategic issues such as market shaping, we are not convinced that RCCs will deliver the changes we need to see in the care market.

Many councils are already working collaboratively and seeing positive results, yet note that they are still unable to have significant influence over the largest private providers.

Councils, as corporate parents, are clear that they, working with partners and carers and listening to children and families, are best placed to identify the right home for each individual child they look after. Locally led solutions – rather than structures imposed from above, such as RCCs – allow councils to build on existing relationships and respond to local contexts.

Many areas already have strong regional or sub-regional, or local arrangements that have good relationships with local providers developed over many years. We would not want to see these lost. We must also recognise the very different challenges that may be faced, for example, by a shire county compared with an inner-London borough.

While we welcome many of the recommendations in the review’s final report, some issues cannot wait for delivery. In particular, we have significant concerns around placements for children in care who have the most complex needs, placements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and workforce capacity.

The review’s recommendations will require significant funding to deliver, and we urge ministers to provide the investment needed to reform services swiftly. We are keen to work with the Government to build and deliver an ambitious plan for implementation that will see long-standing improvements to services, while also tackling those issues that are increasingly risking the ability of councils to support children.

The Government has outlined its initial response to the care review and committed to delivering an “ambitious and detailed” response and implementation strategy by the end of the year.

Its three priorities for improving children’s social care are to: improve the child protection system so that it keeps children safe from harm as effectively as possible; support families to care for their children, so that they can have safe, loving and happy childhoods that set them up for fulfilling lives; and ensure that there are the right placements for children in the right places, so that those who cannot stay with their parents grow up in a safe, stable and loving home.

It has committed to: establishing a ‘national implementation board’ of sector experts and people with experience of the care system; working with councils to boost efforts to recruit more foster carers; improving support for social workers (especially early on in their careers); providing funding for family hubs and social workers in schools; and joining up data from across the public sector to increase transparency.

“We want to identify elements that we can implement swiftly”

The LGA will work closely with its members over the coming months to develop and expand on its initial views of the review.

In the meantime, we want to work quickly with government and partners to identify elements of the report we can and should implement swiftly, and on planning the medium to long-term reform process. This must include commitment from Whitehall to tackle issues that children’s social care cannot solve alone, including access to health services and ending child poverty.

As the report plainly acknowledges, reform and investment go hand in hand – one will not be effective without the other. This is why we are calling for a White Paper within the next six months to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to reform, and truly transformational investment by the Treasury in the services that give all children the best start in life.

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