The Department for Education (DfE) has merged responsibilities for children’s social care and schools under new minister Kelly Tolhurst.
The DfE confirmed this week that Tolhurst would be its sixth minister with responsibility for social care in four years, three weeks after Brendan Clark-Smith left the children’s minister post to take up a role in another department. The hiatus was caused in part by the mourning period following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
As with her social care ministerial predecessors, Tolhurst’s brief will also encompass other issues concerning disadvantaged and vulnerable children, including special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and early help.
However, unlike them, she will also take responsibility for key aspects of policy on schools – including strategy, qualifications, the curriculum and admissions – which is reflected in her title as minister for schools and childhood.
In relation to the scope of Tolhurst’s role, the DfE said its focus would be children’s wellbeing.
Response to care review
Her responsibilities mean she will have a bulging policy in-tray encompassing planned reforms to SEND, schools and children’s social care, in relation to which the DfE is due to publish an implementation plan before the end of the year.
This will respond to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s inquiry into the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson and the Competition and Markets Authority’s study into the children’s social care market.
In line with previous ministers for schools, her role will be at the mid-ranking minister of state level, a more senior post than the junior ministerial status held by her five social care predecessors. Robert Goodwill, in 2017-18, was the last DfE minister of state with responsibility for social care.
Praise for Frontline
Tolhurst, previously the deputy chief whip, used her first tweet since her portfolio was confirmed to highlight social workers’ “vital role in keeping our children safe”, in encouraging applications to Frontline.
Social workers play a vital role in keeping our children safe and @FrontlineSW’s fantastic offering makes sure that they are well trained and well equipped for the road ahead. Sign up with them to train as a social worker here:? https://t.co/QsXp6Zml6A
— Kelly Tolhurst MP (@KellyTolhurst) September 27, 2022
The fast-track social work training scheme has been funded by the government, and championed by a succession of ministers, since its inception in 2013. However, critics within the profession have long raised concerns about the lack of attention and resources directed at other routes into social work, particularly university courses.
Welcome from children’s social care bodies
Children’s social care bodies welcomed Tolhurst to her role by stressing their key priorities for the months ahead.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of charity fostering agency TACT, said he looked forward to working with her on investing in fostering and implementing the recommendations of the care review.
The Family Rights Group said it wanted to collaborate with her “to solve the very real issues facing the child welfare system and to help children thrive within their families”.
Meanwhile, charities Adoption UK, Become and Kinship highlighted the importance of improving outcomes for adopted people and their families, children in care and care leavers, and kinship carers, respectively.