Social workers and sector bodies urge Williamson to overhaul care review’s leadership and scope

Over 100 practitioners, academics and campaigners and 27 organisations sign open letter to education secretary urging replacement of Josh MacAlister as lead reviewer with panel of experts and 'independent chair'

Person signing legal letter
Credit: ldprod/Adobe Stock

Social workers, academics and sector bodies have urged Gavin Williamson to overhaul the children’s social care review, including by replacing lead reviewer Josh MacAlister with a group of experts led by an “independent chair”.

In an open letter to the education secretary, over 100 practitioners and academics and 27 organisations called for the timescale of the review to be extended from the proposed 12-15 months and for the inquiry not to be bound by current resource limits or any presumptions about how services should be reorganised.

The organisations backing the letter, co-ordinated by children’s rights organisation Article 39, include family court practitioners’ body Nagalro, the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, the Association of Lawyers for Children and the Care Leavers’ Association. Individual signatories include the first Children’s Commissioner for England, Al Aynsley-Green, former British Association of Social Workers chair Judith Timms, former International Federation of Social Workers president David N Jones, and Ray Jones, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s/University of London and former social services director.

MacAlister’s independence and competence questioned

Echoing concerns raised at the time of Frontline chief executive MacAlister’s appointment last month, the letter questioned his competence to run the process as the sole reviewer, and his independence from government, given the £72m in funding from the Department for Education Frontline has received over the past five years.

The letter said that MacAlister, a teacher before he set up Frontline in 2013, had “no professional background in children’s social care” and that leading the review would probably be an “impossible” task for “someone with no prior direct knowledge of the children’s social care system”.

It called for a panel of experts and an independent chair to be appointed following an open recruitment process – in effect, a call to replace MacAlister as lead reviewer. He was appointed directly by Williamson without a formal recruitment process.

Scope ‘unrealistically wide’

The letter also said the scope of the review, which covers the whole of children’s social care, was “unrealistically wide for a relatively short time period, especially within the context of a global pandemic”. It also warned that “hastily produced plans would inevitably risk making the lives of children, care leavers and families much worse”.

The letter also made links to MacAlister’s involvement as a lead author for a ‘blueprint’ for children’s social care, which was published by Frontline and other organisations in 2019, based on a model that aimed to increase social workers’ face-to-face time with families by 60% by stripping out perceived bureaucracy.

The letter said that “this work shows that Mr MacAlister has already invested time and energy into thinking how children and families could be much better served”, and that it would be wrong for the care review to start with a ready-made template such as the blueprint.

Concerns were also raised in the letter that the blueprint was designed with no extra cost being made available to children’s social care and that the care review’s current terms of reference made no suggestion of extra funding being available to implement reforms.

The letter also called for any proposed legal changes to be referred to the Law Commission and ensure that any urgent changes to children’s services are not held up by the review.

Appointment defended

In response to the letter, the Department for Education said: “The independent review of children’s social care will set out to radically reform the system, and we will shortly be setting out timings for this ambitious work.

“Josh MacAlister was appointed because of his understanding of the challenges facing the system and his experience of implementing innovative solutions. He will permanently step down from his role at Frontline and will be expected to comply with the Seven Principles of Public Life, in line with standard practice for senior appointments.”

The principles require public office-holders act with selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and honesty.

8 Responses to Social workers and sector bodies urge Williamson to overhaul care review’s leadership and scope

  1. Led by Liars February 9, 2021 at 3:16 pm #

    As if this government – not least Gavin Williamson, who should have resigned on several occasions, and has not – will reflect appropriately on appointments, and respond accordingly.

    Everyone agrees that a review is required. Though everyone also agrees that implementation of previous reviews might help.

    Anyone who genuinely believes that this current government has the best interests of anyone other than themselves and their chums needs to take a long hard look at themselves.

  2. Sean Hayes February 10, 2021 at 9:54 am #

    Thanks for this:

    (1) The acritical advises that ” “the independent review of children’s social care will set out to radically reform the system, and we will shortly be setting out timings for this ambitious work. ”

    This is a conclusion of a review . Until the review has taken place and evidence is gathered no one should at this stage know what might be required in terms ‘reform.’

    (2) It would appear that this ‘Review” is another attempt of the Deregulation to Privatisation Project ( under the guise of Innovation) that so nearly succeeded a few years ago.

    (3) I think It would help if the ‘Review’ could be undertaken independently and designed to be credible and Fit for Purpose.

    (4) I think the Chair would have something to contribute to an Independent Review but not as the Chair Person in this context.

  3. Kurt February 10, 2021 at 7:06 pm #

    Would be really helpful if we were given clear examples of the “innovative solutions” Mr MacAlister is said to have enacted. Supposition without evidence is not really achievement is it?

  4. Rachael February 12, 2021 at 10:00 am #

    Bring in Oak Academies. Trusted and funded by DfE so clearly have the expertise to contribute to the Review. E

  5. Jay February 14, 2021 at 7:50 pm #

    Exactly what’s wrong with Social Work, dominated by the white, middle class, Elites. Boarding school, silverspooned spoilt brats :).

  6. JT February 15, 2021 at 8:54 am #

    This review might or might not reflect real life. This government laughed off the UN envoy report in the UK which showed massive inequality, poverty and clear links to the murderous Tory austerity agenda.

    If Josh ‘£72 mill’ man goes and talks to social workers in offices he will be brown nosed like they do with Ofsted.

    The fact is that no local authority in the UK is outstanding, good or needing special measures. None. Because whilst there is poverty and suffering it is impossible to be outstanding. Good practice is possible but good outcomes are very very few and far between.

    The finger points directly and firmly at the Tory’s. Local MP’s sniff around who ever is in power, Cameron, May, Johnson and vote exactly how they vote with no connection or care for their towns. Who is inspecting them? Even Priti Patel is a racist bully. When everyone knows there is a problem but can not do anything about is democracy is dead.

    Social workers on the whole do nothing. Some have opinions, some post on social media, some join a union. We need to stand up for the kids we work for. Strike, march, protest, sit outside MP’s offices. We need the freedom in a local authority to be able to do that. Truth is that if you work for a local authority you work for the government and 99% of social workers care more about their own jobs and families than actually making an impact. It is drummed into us that small changes make a difference. Yes they do but helping a family manage their poverty, deprivation and disability does not eradicate the causes. Economically speaking if benefits were fair, housing was better and landlords were not crooks, if therapy was easily accessed and educational opportunities were varied and numerous this capitalist mess would improve.

    Come on social workers…be braver.

    • Led By Liars February 16, 2021 at 1:39 pm #

      Hear hear.

  7. Sandra February 17, 2021 at 12:06 am #

    Mr Macallister says over 1000 care experienced people applied to be on his Experts by Experience panel. 40 have been shortlisted from which “10-15” will be appointed. A man who was imposed required others to apply and will now select some without telling us what the criteria is. We are asked to trust his independence yet nothing suggests transparency will be a high priority.

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