Care review head defends appointment amid questions over his suitability

Josh MacAlister asks critics to “judge me by my actions” in a bid to allay concerns over independence and involvement of care-experienced people in review

Yellow question mark amid pile of black ones
Image: rcfotostock

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.

Mixed response

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.

“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”.

8 Responses to Care review head defends appointment amid questions over his suitability

  1. Karen January 20, 2021 at 2:24 pm #

    How can someone with a teaching background, an absolute ‘ pie in the sky’ idea of social work and what it consists of. Has no understanding whatsoever of how it works at the moment, completely devalues the hard working social workers we currently have and openly admits he has ‘much to learn’ be put in charge of this review. Smacks of favouritism and jobs for the boys! I’m pretty sure most of the care leavers I know wouldn’t put themselves forward and complete forms and interviews for this. If you really want to hear and act on their views go out and meet them. Build a relationship, listen to them, support them to do these things and really understand the impact on the of this broken system. Oh sorry, that’s social work, forgot you haven’t got a clue.

  2. Chris Sterry January 20, 2021 at 6:44 pm #

    While I do welcome this review process, I do value and respect the concerns of others, as to what effect the views from ‘Experts of Experience’ will be taken into account. Especially, as historically they have not been.

    Another main concern, is why has it taken this long, for these are actions which should have been taken years ago

    Again another concern, is what is happening to Adults, for this appears to be only in respect of children and Adult Social Care is of the same extent of concern as is Children’s Social Care.

    For all of Social Care is in crisis and has been for many years.

    The lack of funding, while being a major concern, is, but one of many and all have to be solved to save social care.

    Although, funding is a very major concern and has been for years, as Social Care has never been sufficiently funded, but 10 years of austerity cuts from Conservative Governments and then COVID has exasperated the funding problem.

    The continuance of a recognised social care system may not have long and any reviews have to be implemented urgently, but not rushed, as the reviews have, for once and for all, to solve all the crisis’s in social care, so that those in need of social care can receive it both in good quality and also quantity.

    As well as the reviews, it may be that support for the petition, Solve the crisis in Social Care, should be a major consideration.

    So, please view the petition, link being, https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/solve-the-crisis-in-social-care.

    Everything needs to be done for this Government to take the urgently required appropriate action.

  3. Alice January 20, 2021 at 7:32 pm #

    Here is my advice. Ask how £2bn of cuts in the last decade may have contributed to undermining family life. Ask if child poverty is a gateway to care. Ask if unregulated privatised provision contributes to poor care experiences. Ask if Asset Managers and Hedge Funds are the appropriate funders for care services. Ask why social workers are dismissed as naysayers if they question. Ask how inclusive a process can be when some are handpicked and others have to apply to be heard. Sorry if this is experienced as gaslighting and micro-aggression.

  4. Ros January 20, 2021 at 8:21 pm #

    There have been enough reviews into social care and the recommendations need to be fully implemented. The chair of the review should have a social care background and by interview selection, thus ensuring transparency from the outset. Those already selected to conduct the review is based purely on connections within an organisation funded by the DfE and this is disappointing. Public money would be better served by following recommendations previously made and ensuring senior leadership within local authorities were sufficiently skilled to implement, embed and sustain.

  5. A Social Worker (not teacher) January 20, 2021 at 8:29 pm #

    Maybe in the not too distant future, a social worker could lead a review in teaching?

  6. The Watcher January 21, 2021 at 10:07 am #

    Let’s face it, most people know what is going on behind the scenes and for those who don’t, look at this weblink:

    https://twitter.com/swconcern/status/1349997043834621953?s=21

    The question is what is social work/social care going to do about it?!

  7. Anita January 22, 2021 at 10:48 am #

    I know something about Josh MacAlister, nothing about Jenny Molloy other than her tweets. The Civil Servant remains a secret. What I do know is that if the key players were appointed by interview and not imposed on a supposed Independent review, those of us who care about and experince services would have better confidence in the process. A co-chair imposed on the same basis will not change that.

  8. Kieran January 27, 2021 at 11:33 am #

    BASW like him, Social Worker England like him, Isabel Trowler likes him, our ‘Leaders’ like him, Gavin Williamson loves him so we should trust MacAlister too. After all we are just practitioners, users of services or have a history in care services, what do we know?