Care review offers chance for ‘completely new offer for children and families’, says chief social worker

Isabelle Trowler says review provides opportunity to move away from system that leaves “too may families feeling persecuted and unsupported” to one that “recognises the strengths of families and communities”

Image of Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and families
Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and families

Chief social worker for children and families Isabelle Trowler had said the care review offers a chance for a “completely new offer for children and families” that is more generous and leaves fewer feeling “persecuted and unsupported”.

Speaking at a virtual event organised by kinship care charity Grandparents Plus this week, Trowler said the review – which Frontline chief executive Josh MacAlister has been appointed to lead – could deliver a major change to children’s social care along the lines of the Children Act 1989.

She said it could bring about a more “hopeful” system that “recognises the strengths of families and communities”.  Trowler said the current system left “too many families feeling persecuted and unsupported” and“too many children in care”, and also involved “colossal and disproportionate spend on institutional care”, which she said has “very little evidence on positive outcomes”.

Professionals ‘trampling over personal lives’

Addressing the event on kinship care and special guardianship, Trowler highlighted the feelings of kinship carers about the level of intrusion into their lives and lack of support that came with the role.

She said the review would also need to deal with “the real mismatch between the big bureaucracies we manage and lead and what’s actually happening for kids and their kinship networks” in which professionals are “trampling over very personal and private lives [but] when it really matters, when they really need help, there’s no one there at all”.

She added: “So, what’s the deal here? When does private family life need to crack open so the state can peer in or even take a very good look. Indeed, what is the acceptable and proportionate relationship between kinship carers and the state? By stepping in to help and support a child and their family, does this always need to involve extensive and continuous state scrutiny? In what circumstances and why?

“Why is it that once the state hands over cash, the door to a private life remains firmly ajar? Where is the social trust in our kinship networks? Why don’t we design our service responses to family difficulty based on the belief that most people most of the time want to do the right thing for children? Shouldn’t we start from a position of trust and work from there?

“I’d say it’s about time we had some of these sorts of public conversations, because it’s these values, these dominant belief systems, that underpin policy and legislation as well as custom and practice.”

However, Trowler stressed that local authorities should not be seen as the system’s “bad cop”, as  there was a “100 year+ history of why they operate the system that they do”.

Need to remove disincentives to keep children out of care

Yvette Stanley, national director for social care at Ofsted, also spoke at the event and highlighted that the pandemic had exacerbated the challenges faced by kinship carers, including in relation to their finances.

She said the care review should look to remove the disincentives to keeping children out of the care system, such as that financial support was only available to carers of looked-after children.

Following her speech, Stanley told Community Care that investing in the kinship care of children who were not looked after was “really important” for prevention, as “if a kinship carer placement breaks down, then they end up in the care system with a foster carer”.

Stanley said she was pleased that MacAlister had called for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to conduct a study of the children’s social care market and that she and the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, had long been calling for this. Following MacAlister’s call, the CMA said it was considering such a move.

She said: “I’m really pleased that Josh has now caught that baton and is planning to have those conversations [with the CMA].”

Currently, Stanley said, the children’s residential care did not function as a market should because it was not delivering sufficient places in the right places to meet children’s needs, with too many places in some regions – such as the North West – and far too little secure provision.

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24 Responses to Care review offers chance for ‘completely new offer for children and families’, says chief social worker

  1. Ann-Maria January 30, 2021 at 1:26 pm #

    Mmmm Isabelle Trowler, that well known expert in Social Care, who promoted a model that every media outlet in the UK was told would revolutionise practice…social workers would work with children and families to support and protect the most vulnerable. Juxtaposed of course with the focus on Adoption from the Government as being the best route for children who can’t be cared for at home. Didn’t hear her , or her friends in her ‘social enterprise’ championing Kinship Carers, or Foster Carers. It was the work of many governments including, Labour, sadly who wanted all care provision opened up , moved away from Local Authority oversight ; resulting in no power of scrutiny and ability to influence outcomes for children . How is she, or Josh McAlister, or indeed any of the power players In this latest “let’s change everything because we can and avoid proper accountability and listening actively to those doing the work by doing it during the middle of a pandemic game” that the Canadian Hedge fund that owns a Foster Agency will not make as much profit any more. They created the environment for the profit monster now they want to tame it…or do they. I am certain that both Isabelle and Josh have friends or know a person who can provide the next expensive model, perhaps they could name it Reclaiming everything, running it badly, then blame Social Workers and Local Authorities for failing families” model…
    21 years in Social Work but now sadly longing for the end of my career.

    • Mark Monaghan February 4, 2021 at 1:46 pm #

      Very well put! I fully agree with your response. Like you I’m 18 years in and cant wait to get out. Good luck with the groundbreaking changes that will come from.this ‘independent ‘ review.

  2. Claire Henderson January 30, 2021 at 4:07 pm #

    It would be good though if the person who conducts the review is an actual social worker, someone who has a good awareness and understanding of the pressure of being a professional within a family and how this impacts on decisions that are made. Who has an awareness of the framework and law that Social workers have to adhere too. Josh is a teacher, a ceo of a big company that trains Social workers without actually being one. I would have liked the care review to have been conducted by those who have seen the struggles of performances against politics.

  3. Alison January 30, 2021 at 10:40 pm #

    Reviewing the care system won’t make a difference ,there is not enough workers, they are pushed too the limit, with not enough resources, a flawed system for storing information from schools, doctors etc. Cutting funding repeatedly for children’s services. Child Psychology needs bringing in line with how children have changed, with the influence of the internet and social media,

  4. Ann Robertson January 31, 2021 at 1:51 am #

    As a grandparent bringing up 4granbchildren that’s the first time I’ve heard the kids should be kept out of care thank you for being real and hearing or voice?

    • Daisy B February 3, 2021 at 4:55 pm #

      Totally agree but the first time I’ve heard positive words from a leader as it seems to be all about investing money and making money from adoption agencies hitting targets. Social workers only appear to talk about adoption and not about mediation and keeping families together. First thing that seems to come out their mouth is a section 20. Kinship carers feel persecuted, made to feel like a last resort, undermined, have to battle for every penny to help these children, and we even get refused when we apply for therapy for them from the adoption support fund but the children of special Guardians are entitled. We get no help with school trips school uniform school photos activities birthdays where as foster carers do but we get given the same conditions as foster carers and we have to supervise contact with birth parents and put up with all the the issues that come with that. We are treated disrespectfully with massive intrusion from many professional forcing us to leave employment or the child will get adopted we move heaven and earth responding to reports dropped on us the day before Court we are exhausted drained mentally and physically and tired of trying to prove we are perfect. Nobody is perfect. But we are child’s grandparents we love them very much and we are their advocate and we will do anything to help them if only the social workers realised that and weren’t so quick to jump to section 20 every single time it is as though they want them all in foster care or adoption I had one local authority tell me they do not ever consider special guardianship or kinship care so why is social care a postcode lottery totally inconsistent across the UK and all the genuine helpful social workers are leaving because it is now run by financial people and all about hitting targets and making money I have been through several court cases for my grandchildren and the massive failures I have seen seem systemic to the system especially around processes and practices I have no faith in the British social services system they are breaking up families unnecessarily now

      • Michael February 8, 2021 at 10:35 pm #

        The current system is completely unjust, skewed madness. I blame tony blair and the baby p case that has caused all parents to be a risk and are seen guilty by the courts and the social servixes anxious not be embarrassed. How many families have to be wrecked to protect the system from another baby p.
        Taking children from mothers ‘just in case’ is as evil as the rare dangerous parent.
        There is a sign of a mediation process creeping in now that can help this is where common sense can prevail…. But the law is an ass and the people in it are too

  5. Tom January 31, 2021 at 10:03 am #

    I wonder what trowlers views are on the last ten years of Tory governance and the impact that this has had on families own circumstances, poverty, education, jobs etc. But also the enormous impact Tory austerity has had on council finances.

    The massive shortage of social workers and how this implications on practice.

    The fact is children and family social work is incredibly difficult, stressful and challenging. There is a major shortage of experienced workers who are willing to do this kind of work because it is so stressful.

    Most new workers only stay in children assessment teams (or similar) for a few years, get some experience, get their Asye tick box portfolio done and then move on to another area of social work or leave altogether.

    Plus the pay is poor, the progression criteria is significant, we are expected to work in our own time for free and we are questioned when something isn’t done in a timely manner or when something bad happens.

    It’s no surprise that services are in crisis and families are not getting the support that they need..

  6. Julia January 31, 2021 at 5:59 pm #

    About time but believe it when I see it!

  7. Rosie February 1, 2021 at 3:10 pm #

    I’m a Kinship Carer. Of a high functioning disabled child. And it can be stressful at time’s. When we are not listened too. As we no the child best. And the support package is very limited. For kinship carers. Which I feel should be looked at in more detail. And the right support put in place. To help in providing the care our children need.

  8. Val February 1, 2021 at 5:59 pm #

    I can’t see it happening

  9. A Man Called Horse February 1, 2021 at 7:59 pm #

    Trowler is a government puppet and doesn’t represent me and has absolutely nothing to say on issues of Austerity and Tory cuts to local authority funding which has undermined good social work with children and families. Front Line should be renamed Tory Line it’s all about profit. A chief enforcer for the Tories view of the world. Nothing to say about any of the issues facing social workers. Social Work England routinely doing what they like with social workers. Trowler the silent one.

  10. sandy beach February 2, 2021 at 4:11 pm #

    When have we heard this person a representative of the social work profession really speak out to defend us against government, poverty, austerity, organisation’s being stripped back, the removal of sure start and erosion of early years provision. Instead it’s business all the way, we are failing because we aren’t innovative, yet the innovation funds we applied for have just funded the work we had to cut due to budget cuts and loss of staffing?

    When have we we had anyone really in BASW stand up to the government pulling apart social work, it does it because it can, teachers stand together and are cohesive, as are nurses and doctors, they push against us because they can and this problematic appointment to the care review creating a situation were the DfE will be in effect reviewing the DfE is the pinnacle of this.

    She mentions the review could be as all changing as the children’s act – but the children’s act had considerable legal oversight and input and took a great deal of time in its review, here we are trying to review not just the care system as promised, but the entirety of children’s services in a year? l mean that is a comprehensive undertaking, just reviewing the frustrating legislation and how it has layer caked one on top of the other and doesn’t always work alongside earlier/ later legislation would take nearly that to unpick as one aspect of it, the experiences of children in care also itself a considerable undertaking would take more than a year l would think, then we have thresholds? Children supported by plan’s, children in court situations. How we operate as organisations, blinded to our own processes, which l note she refers to in the bureaucracy, something that if so concerned could have been an area pushed by her to date, rather than letting it own the children’s experiences to date, l have to ask is this task possible in all honesty as it has been constructed?

  11. Ros/Char February 2, 2021 at 9:00 pm #

    Sadly , whilst I respect Isabelle she is not representing me as a Social Worker. The reviews already completed should have the recommendations progressed and be subject to review before we decide ‘what next’. It really is quite simple why on earth do we keep over complicating?

  12. Ros February 2, 2021 at 9:19 pm #

    The pool of chairs was endless:


  13. Nikki February 3, 2021 at 12:08 pm #

    Great that Ms Trowler thinks social workers and our care services should be free of bureaucracy. Where has she been these past months?

  14. Phil Sanderson February 3, 2021 at 7:59 pm #

    Trowler is a Gove clone along with Macalister and soon to be joined by another Gove clone Rachel de Souza as the new Children’s commissioner. Children’s trusts here we come!

  15. Tony Bilton February 3, 2021 at 8:57 pm #

    Strange tone from the Chief. One would think she has no part in or any influence over care services. Councils become “they”, expenditure is “collosal”, families feel persecuted”, the State hands over “cash” but only if the family door is kept “ajar”. A cynic might think her real purpose is to provide a bit of cover for her pal Josh with kinship carers.

  16. Alice Pope February 4, 2021 at 11:21 am #

    People are being unkind and disrespectful to Isabelle Trowler. She has become the Chief Officer from being a social worker. I suggest she is given the credit for that journey. Admittedly she is a political pawn and seems to not mind being manipulated by politicians but she is one of us.

  17. Connor February 6, 2021 at 10:44 am #

    Profoundly disagree Alice. Her roots may be in social work but her priorities are anything but promoting our image and protecting our welfare.

  18. Julie February 6, 2021 at 10:37 pm #

    Could we deal with the substance of the arguments rather than harping on the backgrounds of the people trying to make the review happen?
    Kinship care operates at the crux of many systems: public vs private law; Parental Responsibility vs children’s rights, ignorant professionals vs experts by experience, private arrangements vs public sector responsibility, it’s a powerful source of evidence for the review. I hope it is drawn on and used.

  19. Conrad February 8, 2021 at 12:37 am #

    Given that such a review is not a neutral activity the backgrounds of participants matter a great deal. The Chair and the Chief both have a vision and have committed themselves to a particular model already. It would be naive to think they can shift from that greatly. Kinship evidence and that from care experienced people is crucial of course, but so is the frame of reference for the review which remains opaque still.

  20. Chris Brazendale February 8, 2021 at 11:15 pm #

    32 years in Children’s Social care,28 of them as a Social Worker and now retired.

    I don’t trust Trowler as she ran a care business before her current post. She is also well connected with Senior Tories- you know the ones that cut the budgets and blame the Council’s. She’s been in post a long time -so why now?

    The competition and markets Authority will be carrying out a study. I fail to see how a Neo- liberal market mechanism ideology will help with this problem?

    Government usually have reviews when they don’t want to do anything!

    I would welcome a system which works with and supports families, but this won’t happen unless we have good public services across the board and Social inequality is massively improved.

    The complex task of keeping children safe will not change and in fact the thresholds are so high that situations are tolerated, when they shouldn’t be. This is due to the numbers of Children in this situation.

  21. John February 15, 2021 at 8:57 pm #

    So over 1000 care experienced people responded to invitation tone part of the review:team”. 40 have been selected for interview and 10-20 will be ‘apppointed’. Still beleive this is an independent review that will be a “new offer for children and families”?