The head of the care review has welcomed the government’s response to his report but has urged it to go “further and faster”.
Josh MacAlister, who led the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, said today’s Department for Education response set the right direction but was critical of its failure to take forward certain recommendations and the lack of funding.
Sector bodies have roundly criticised the DfE for providing one-fifth of the funding recommended by MacAlister – £200m over two years as opposed to £2.6bn over five – to reform the system.
More on the DfE response to the care review
In a piece for blogging platform Medium, MacAlister set out the core diagnosis from his 14-month review into the system in England: “Early and intensive support for families in crisis is hollowed out. Child protection is overwhelmed. Family networks — grandparents, aunts and uncles — are systematically overlooked when they could help to raise a child whose parents are struggling.
“All of this means we’re on course to have 100,000 children in care within a decade. Too many of these children are forced to grow up far from their community in homes that can’t give them the stability and love they need. The experience of growing up in care is one of the greatest disadvantages someone can face.”
He welcomed the DfE’s plans to pilot his core recommendation – the creation of new multidisciplinary family help services across England to substantially improve support for families in need.
He was also supportive of its decision to back his recommendations to create expert child protection practitioners to lead safeguarding cases in pilot areas, introduce an early career framework to improve post-qualifying social work training, boost foster carer recruitment, enhance support for kinship carers and increase leaving care grants.
Risk of ongoing poor outcomes for children
He said the £200m allocated would “start tipping the scales towards the kind of system children and families urgently need”.
However, what was needed was a “transformative whole system reset”, without which “outcomes for children and families [would] remain stubbornly poor”, and the costs of children’s social care would rise from £10bn to £15bn a year over the next decade.
He argued that his proposed level of investment – most of which, £2bn over five years, would go on family help – would save the taxpayer money in the long-term, notably by reducing by an estimated 30,000 (30%) the likely size of the care population by 2032.
MacAlister urged the DfE to speed up the rollout of family help services, which it currently intends to pilot in up to 12 areas, at a cost of £45m.
With the DfE only committing to explore MacAlister’s call for an introduction of an allowance and improved access to legal aid for kinship carers with a special guardianship, or child arrangements, order, he said: “They need to speed up legislating to provide kinship carers with support so that more children can live well with their own families, in turn preventing more children entering an overwhelmed care system.”
MacAlister also said that the proposed £25m to improve foster care recruitment and retention over the next two years would not deliver the 9,000 additional carers he said were needed over the next three years.
Failure to make care experience a protected characteristic
He was particularly critical of the DfE’s failure to accept his recommendation to make being care experienced a protected characteristic, which would provide protection against discrimination, and requirements on public bodies to tackle inequalities, for care leavers.
“This would be a landmark change for those who grew up in care and would profoundly change the way services and society behaves towards this remarkable but extremely disadvantaged community,” he added.
He also criticised the DfE’s failure to commit to the introduction of universal care standards, which his review had said would guarantee the provision of care to all looked-after children, in whatever setting.
This comes with charities and social work bodies having conducted a longstanding campaign against the DfE’s introduction of standards that do not require the provision of care for currently unregulated supported accommodation for 16- and 17-year-olds.
MacAlister added: “The Department for Education has done a good job of responding comprehensively to the review, within the constraints they’ve faced. But so many who have lived through or work in this faltering system know that there’s a burning platform. Reforms will get started this year, but children and families will have to wait longer to see results. Government as a whole therefore needs to prioritise legislative time and investment for these children.”