Children’s directors plan to overhaul care system

Directors to investigate how permanence, stability and support for teenagers can be improved, and warn government reforms to children's homes and adoption are too narrowly focused.

Directors of children’s services have thrown down the gauntlet to government by issuing plans to investigate and overhaul the care system.

In a paper issued today, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said it planned to examine what the care system is designed to achieve, departing from the government’s focus on reforming individual parts of the system, notably adoption and children’s homes.

“We hear a lot about separate parts of the system- reforming adoption, or children’s homes, for example- but these debates tend to be had in isolation,” said ADCS vice-president Andrew Webb, primary author of the report, What is Care For?

“We must ask what the care system is trying to achieve, rather than focusing solely on the means by which this is done,” said the report. “We need to press the case for a focus on outcomes and consider the role of the state in protecting vulnerable children and young people in the short, medium and long term.”

The ADCS intends to investigate and make recommendations in three areas: dealing better with teenagers, reducing placement moves and promoting permanence.

“Our approach to intervening with adolescents, particularly when they have first entered the care system in their teens, has a poor track record in improving outcomes. Evidence shows that some parts of the care system can actually accelerate a young person’s journey into custody,” the report said.

Directors want to consider a move away from “outdated” approaches to residential care, and investigate if therapeutic residential settings could be used as an alternative to custody.

More use of “lifelong child protection plans” to keep children at home with their families should also be considered, as should changing regulations to ensure kinship care could be used more widely, the report added.

It also pointed out that the government’s current reforms to adoption would not improve the number and skills of potential adoptive parents for some time. In the meantime there needed to be equal consideration given to other forms of permanence such as residence orders and special guardianship orders.

Webb said that over the next few months the ADCS would investigate all the options in more depth and make recommendations to improve policy and practice including engaging with both the government and the judiciary.

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