Social care must “raise its game” to improve services for vulnerable children, children’s minister Edward Timpson has said.
Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Harrogate, Timpson announced an innovation programme to help drive up standards. “The programme will act as a catalyst for developing more effective ways of supporting vulnerable children,” he said.
Clive Cowdery, an entrepreneur who made a personal fortune from the insurance industry and founder of the Resolution Foundation, will work with Timpson “to identify the sharpest, most inspirational thinking in the field”.
“I want all your most ingenious and dynamic ventures,” Timpson said. “Whether in social work practice or social pedadogy or be it in better approaches to supporting returns home or alternatives to residential care for adolescents. From next year, we’ll develop, test and share those with the most potential.”
While Timpson recognised some of the excellent work done by councils, he said the terrible cases of Daniel Pelka, Hamzah Khan and Keanu Williams showed, “we must do better by children so badly in need of our protection and support”.
He called for a “fundamental rethink” in how children are protected. “I want to support and liberate you to improve faster, get better value for money, do the job you came into the profession to do. But to do this, I need you to demonstrate to me what you have to offer. And looking at the sparks of innovation in children’s services, I believe there are real reasons to be hopeful,” he said.
Examples of innovation the minister cited included the partnership between Kent and the children’s charity Coram, which has boosted adoption rates by 110%.
Timpson did not announce any new money for the improvement programme, but said: “Instead of letting cost pressures blunt our ambitions, we need to dig deep creatively to make the money we do have work harder than ever for those who most need it.”
He called on the sector to “confront head on any systems and structures that are getting in the way of innovation and better outcomes”.
“Ask yourself the question and then tell me: what stops me from doing things differently and better? We need a fundamental change in approach – or rather, approaches – if we’re to really raise our game,” he added.
At his keynote speech to the conference earlier in the week, Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, warned that the children’s social care system is “unsustainable” and obsessed with targets.
Webb told Community Care: “We can’t do more with less, that much we know. We need to do things differently and re-focus all our attention on need and finding creative ways to identify and meet need. It’s a challenge to our imaginations and our practical abilities.”