Care review’s rejection of over 900 applicants for experts by experience group sparks ‘pain and anger’

Review lead Josh MacAlister says process designed to create diverse group with lived experience to advise him, following criticisms that selection criteria were unclear and experience of rejection traumitising

Josh MacAlister, chief executive of Frontline
Josh MacAlister (photo: Frontline)

People with experience of the social care system were caused “pain, anger and disbelief” after over 900 had their applications for involvement in a group advising the care review rejected.

From over 1,000 applications to join the experts by experience group, only 40 were invited for interview by review chair Josh MacAlister, of whom 10-15 will be chosen for the group. This prompted criticisms that the selection criteria were unclear, decisions had been made far too quickly, people didn’t know how many would be selected before they applied and that valuable expertise would be lost to the review.

Some who had been through the care system also cited that being rejected from their application was retraumatising. Following the criticisms, MacAlister emailed applicants, and put a thread on Twitter, to explain his decision-making, saying his intent was to create a “fair and open process that resulted in a diverse group”, and not to “diminish or overlook anyone’s experience”.

How selection process worked

With MacAlister, who was a teacher before he founded fast-track social work education provider Frontline in 2013, appointed by government as lead and sole reviewer, supported by a team of civil servants, the experts group has been seen as the key route for ensuring the review is informed by the voices of those who have experienced social care.

On 4 February, MacAlister invited applications for the group, with three criteria for involvement:

  • Having had personal experience of the children’s social care system, either as a child or family member.
  • Being comfortable contributing views respectfully alongside others who may have had very different experiences.
  • Having the ability to communicate their own views, and those of others with lived experience, about children’s social care clearly and concisely.

Applicants were asked to fill out a form, setting out their previous experience of making a difference to people in the children’s social care system and what single thing they would change about the system.

Applications were taken up until 12 February, and they were then judged on a “blind” basis, with assessors not knowing who applicants were.

On 15 February, MacAlister announced on Twitter that 40 people had been invited for interview, having sent emails of commiseration to those who had not been invited.

Criteria ‘should be in public domain’

Much of the criticism centred on how people had been selected, with Ian Dickson, a retired social worker who grew up in care, among those to question the selection criteria, and residential childcare campaigner Ben Ashcroft, among those to criticise the speed of decision making.

There was also consternation about how rejection would impact on people who had been through the care system, including from Sarah Sturmey, who has lived experience and is the founder of Pure Insight, a charity that helps people leaving care.

‘Pain, anger and disbelief’

Summarising the critical responses, Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said: “The spectacle of more than 900 people with direct, personal experience of the care system or other elements of children’s social care being turned down by email following an opaque and crassly insensitive process shows the fragility of this rushed review.

“The pain, anger and disbelief we’re rightly witnessing from people who generously put themselves forward was entirely preventable… It’s as if this review is starting at ground zero and knows nothing about abuse of power, rejection and manipulation. Care experienced people and their allies pressed for this review to bring about radical transformation in the care system. This latest charade confirms the Secretary of State must start again with a review panel that can command confidence and trust.”

In response, MacAlister said on Twitter that he wanted the experts group “to sit at the heart of this review and make meaningful decisions throughout”.

He said that he “could have directly picked people” or that organisations could have been asked to nominate people – which was considered – but he chose to have an open application system where people were invited to apply to “get the widest possible range of people”.

He acknowledged that the “inevitable downside of this is that some people don’t get selected”.

Intent ‘to create fair and open process’

MacAlister added: “The intent was to create a fair and open process that resulted in a diverse group who can help to steer the review. It wasn’t intended to diminish or overlook anyone’s experience. We need to hear all views and there will be ways for everyone to contribute.”

He also said there would be other ways people would be able to be involved in the review other than through membership of the group.

Fierce critic of the review John Radoux, a child psychotherapeutic counsellor who grew up in care and has worked in children’s homes, said he was pleased to see MacAlister’s thinking explained and that he had “responded to people’s upset”.

Radoux added: “Had [MacAlister] shared his thinking, and stated the number of people they would shortlist, and the number of vacancies, people would have been much better informed before they made the decision to apply.”

Turbulent month since appointment

The row follows a turbulent first month since MacAlister’s appointment to lead the review was made, in which it has been subject to significant criticisms from sector organisations, social workers and academics, who called last week for him to be replaced by a panel led by an “independent chair”.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England became the latest organisation to criticise the review this week, issuing a policy statement called for the review to be deferred and reframed, for the leadership to be reconsidered to include the appointment of a co-chair and review panel and for it to integrate lived experiences of care and social work into the “heart” of the review.

It also questioned the proposed timescale of the review – 12-15 months – and said that “in the context of a global pandemic, suggests a rushed approach which is unlikely to deliver on the ‘once in a generation’ opportunity for transformation that has been promised.”

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2 Responses to Care review’s rejection of over 900 applicants for experts by experience group sparks ‘pain and anger’

  1. Nigel February 19, 2021 at 10:38 pm #

    Apparently the man who was directly picked to head this review believes that invitation to apply was the right way forward so that he could appoint the “widest possible range of people”. It’s a rare talent that can couple Shameless with Cluless.

  2. Althea February 22, 2021 at 11:03 am #

    Well put there. It’s a strange contortion for him to overlook how he has been hand picked, thus closing off the possibility of a diverse range of applicants, then see the value of a process that affords the widest range of applications. By the way we are still awaiting which civil servants will be steering his review direction. Not everything should wait till mid-March surely?