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”.
More on the care review
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.