Josh MacAlister has defended his appointment as care review lead, asking critics “to judge me by my actions”, following concerns over his suitability and how the review would be run.
The Frontline chief executive took to Twitter over the weekend to respond to concerns over his independence from government and why people with experience of social care were not more involved in running the review.
MacAlister reiterated that he would be standing down from his Frontline role, as well as from various charity boards, so that he could focus fully on the review, which starts in March. He is currently on the advisory board for the Children’s Commissioner for England and trustee of Whatever It Takes, a charity that supports children who have committed offences.
He also defended himself against charges that he lacked independence from the Department for Education (DfE) – which are based on the fact that Frontline has been funded by the department to deliver its fast-track social work training programme since its inception in 2013.
“A few suggest that because I’ve secured government funding for charitable programmes I won’t be independent,” said MacAlister, who was a teacher before setting up Frontline. “By this logic, those in local authorities, academia, or elsewhere who secure public funding for projects would fail the independence test.
“If that’s the logic then fair enough but I ask that those who are sceptical to judge me by my actions. Helping to get children a decent and fair start on life has been the focus of my career and that’s what will drive this review.”
A hand-picked team
Besides MacAlister’s independence from the DfE, concerns have focused on why people who have received social care as children are not more involved in the review.
Specifically, issues have been raised about the membership of and recruitment process for the experts by experience group that will advise MacAlister throughout the review.
This group will be formed of children, young people and families who have experience of children’s social care and is designed to make sure the review is informed by the voices of those with experience of the system.
People are invited to apply to become part of the experts by experience group and would then be interviewed and selected by MacAlister, the head of the review team – who Community Care understands is a civil servant – and writer, trainer and care leaver Jenny Molloy, who was asked by MacAlister to do so.
Many of the concerns have come from some with care experience themselves. Ian Dickson, a retired social worker who grew up in care said on Twitter:
“Most care experienced people would not seek out government forms to fill in to be included and many who did, would not want to lay out their lives for examination and possible rejection by interview.”
John Radoux, a care experienced child psychotherapeutic counsellor who has previously worked in children’s homes was very vocal in his concerns and said that he was “torn between encouraging people to apply [to the experts by experience group] to make sure their voices are heard, and my concern that they will be badly let down…”
In contrast, the Care Leavers Association said it welcomed the announcement of the care review and especially commended that the voices of people with experience of children’s social care would be heard and acted upon.
Molloy said she hoped her years of “dedication to improving the system for our children” influenced MacAlister’s decision to bring her on board, and that she “cannot wait to meet the children, young people, adults and families who want to be involved”.
MacAlister left the possibility open that a co-chair with lived experience could be appointed to the review when asked on Twitter by social worker and trainer Siobhan MacLean.
Hi Siobhan. Lots of tweets so sorry to miss this earlier. My answer is, I don’t know. Keen to know your thinking so please feel free to share it here: https://t.co/fRXCC3uEZ1
— Josh MacAlister (@JoshMacAlister) January 15, 2021
“Right now I need advice, and lots of it”
MacAlister confirmed that the review team was still “coming together”. Ahead of the March start, he has put out a “call for advice”, for people to to submit advice for the review.
He said he would personally read each response and that the purpose of the call for advice would be for people to “guide” him on what he should be reading in his first few months in the role, how best to hear from those in the system – or with experience of it – and to answer who he should be talking to and what questions he should be asking.
MacAlister added: “There’s lots that I don’t know so please share your advice generously. Your response will help to shape the very start of the review”.