Care experienced people want representation on the leadership of the review of children’s social care in England, a survey of them has found.
The survey, carried out before Frontline chief executive Josh MacAlister’s appointment to lead the review last week, also found concerns that the views of people with direct experience of the system would be “overlooked or marginalised”, or that engagement would turn out to be “tokenistic”.
Concerns were also raised about the potential scope and ambition of the review and whether this might be limited by financial or political constraints. Further worries were that the review “would not be transformational and the recommendations would be ignored.”
Debate over MacAlister’s appointment
The report of the survey was released amid widespread debate about MacAlister’s suitability to lead the review, his independence from government – given Frontline’s funding from the Department for Education – and the role and influence of people with experience of social care in the review.
While MacAlister has invited people who have or have had a social worker in their families’ lives to join an experts by experience group, concerns have been raised about the process for selecting this group and why there’s no representation as yet from anyone with care experience in the review’s leadership team.
Currently, only MacAlister has been appointed to the review – without a formal application process – though he has left open the possibility open of a care-experienced co-chair being appointed.
The online survey was carried out by Our Care, Our Say, a group set up by the Care Leavers Association, the National IRO Management Partnership and the team that produced the 2019 Care Experienced Conference, which is looking to help care experienced people influence the review.
It was carried out in October-November 2020 and received 163 responses from care experienced people of all ages.
Need for care experienced leadership
It found that 81% felt it was extremely important that people with care experience should be involved in all stages of the review (planning, gathering evidence, analysis, recommendations and outputs) and 78% felt the same about whether they should be represented within its leadership.
The report said: “There is a fear that those in leadership roles will not be care experienced or have a significant understanding of the care experience. As such [care experienced people] need to be in leadership roles…”
One respondent said: “People conducting the review won’t represent the people who are care experienced, so will lack knowledge and empathy in regards to understanding their experiences, and how to make things better.”
Some felt the review should be co-chaired, co-produced and co-implemented, that the chair should be elected from a shortlist, or that care experienced people could shadow the chair.
Fears over lack of engagement
When asked what their biggest concerns were about the review, the report said the biggest fear was that the review would not engage with wide variety of care experienced people and capture the diversity of their views.
Respondents also made clear it was important to make it as easy as possible for care experienced people to communicate their views with the review, with multiple means of communication offered, including face-to-face events, when possible, to accommodate people less comfortable with digital communication.
There were also fears that professionals’ views would eclipse those of care experienced people and that those of older care leavers would be ignored, despite the value they would bring.
The survey also unearthed that nothing would change on the back of the review – on the basis that previous inquiries had not delivered – and that it risked being “a tokenistic exercise that is rushed and shrouded in secrecy.
One summed up their concerns as: “Not consulting with a plethora of people, only engaging in a tokenistic way, selecting what one chooses to hear in order to fit others’ agenda. Only gaining a limited perspective. failure to listen to and act upon the voices of CEP.”
A further fear was that the review’s ambitions would be limited by money, with one respondent saying: “It will be about saving money not what best for all concerned.”
Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield said she was pleased to see the care experienced community had submitted its views to the care review. She said: “The priorities put forward in this report echo many of the things that both children in care and children leaving care have been saying to me. The importance of stability and trusting relationships has once again been emphasised, and the need to have a choice of good safe places to live, where children can receive the help they need and feel loved, comes through loud and clear.”