A group of children’s social care experts will lead a seven-month review into the “care crisis” causing record levels of care proceedings and numbers of children in care.
The review, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, will aim to identify changes that could be made to local authority and court systems, as well as national and local policies and practices to stem the increase of care cases and children in the care system.
Participants include the president of the family courts, Sir James Munby; the chief executive of Cafcass, Anthony Douglas; the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Alison Michalska; the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield; and assorted academics, directors of children’s services and policy advisers.
The ‘Care Crisis Review’ will run until June 2018 and is chaired by Nigel Richardson, a former director of children’s services in Leeds, and will be facilitated by the Family Rights Group. It comes as the number of children in care has reached its highest level since 1985, and the number of care proceedings brought by local authorities has also risen year-on-year to nearly 15,000 in 2016-17.
It will collate evidence on the factors behind the increase in care proceedings, scrutinise research, collect emerging evidence about effective approaches to engaging with families positively, and consult with service users.
Sector leaders, legal practitioners and social workers will also be consulted as part of the review.
A report will be produced at the end of the review recommending ways of reducing demand on the family justice and child welfare systems, as well as improving outcomes for children and families.
Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, said this review might not produce a “revelation” about the system, but added it is important for the agencies involved to reflect on what the common drivers of the crisis are, identify what is going wrong and what they need to shift.
The review being sector led would mean everyone involved could take ownership of the findings, Ashley said. She added it would be “dishonest” not to recognise the impact of funding cuts, but said “its also not the case to say that funding solves it”.
“One of the things that came through in scoping [the review] is that partnership working between the state and families, which underlies the 1989 Children Act, appears to be getting lost in the current climate. [So] if we think that partnership working is key to protecting children, what needs to shift to [realign] the system that we’re working within.”
Michalska welcomed the review and said the rise in care proceedings and children into care had put the system under “considerable strain”.
“It’s vital that wherever possible local authorities and their partners are doing all they can to support families to stay together and in many places local authorities are remodelling their services, including by refocusing resources into edge of care services, to do this but this is no easy task at a time when demand is rising and budgets have been reduced significantly.
“A review which considers changes that could be made nationally and locally to reduce the number of children coming into care safely is long overdue.”