DfE care review response: key points

From regulating agency social work and overhauling early help to investing in kinship care and regionalising the commissioning of care placements, here are the key takeaways from the DfE's children's social care strategy

Department for Education
Department for Education

On 2 February 2023, the Department for Education issued its response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s inquiry into the murders of Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and the Competition and Markets Authority’s study of the children’s social care market, in three consultation documents:

The consultations close on 11 May, 2023. You can respond online by following the links above. To help you, we’ve set out the key points below.

DfE social care strategy: key points

  • Funding: £200m in funding over two years. The care review called for £2.6bn over five years, with £1bn spent over the first two years.
  • Social work training and development: An early career framework will be established,  replacing the ASYE, as recommended by the review. Practitioners will be supported to develop, and be assessed against, the “skills and knowledge needed to support and protect vulnerable children”, and, in years three to five, to develop into “expert practitioners”. This will be tested by a group of early adopter councils with a view to full implementation in 2026. The National Assessment and Accreditation System, scrapped last year, will not be revived.
  • Social work recruitment: The DfE will “explore ways to support the recruitment of up to 500 additional child and family social worker apprentices” to help tackle staff shortages, though it has not provided details on how this will happen.
  • Agency social work: The department has proposed bringing in national rules to reduce the cost and use of agency social workers in children’s services. This would include capping the rates local authorities pay so that agency staff receive the equivalent of permanent workers doing the same role, once benefits have been taken into account.
  • Social worker pay: The DfE has rejected the care review recommendation for national pay scales for social workers on the grounds that this risked destabilising the local government pay system for insufficient benefit. But it has said that it wants greater transparency in what councils pay social workers in children’s services and wants to see existing inequalities in pay for particular roles reduced.
  • Social worker registration: The DfE has also rejected a care review proposal for all registered social workers, including managers and academics, to spend 100 hours in direct work each year to remain close to practice. It said it did not want to risk children facing more changes of practitioner or managers being drawn away from supervision. Instead, it said it would highlight examples of good practice in
  • Family help: £45m will be allocated for up to 12 ‘families first for children pathfinder’ areas to trial the care review proposal to introduce multidisciplinary family help services, to provide “non-judgmental”, joined-up support for families affected by issues such as domestic abuse or poor mental health. This will bring together existing targeted early help and child in need services. As part of this, the DfE will consult on removing the requirement for social workers to lead child in need cases.
  • Child protection: Child protection lead practitioners, who will have received “advanced specialist training”, will be appointed to lead safeguarding cases in the pathfinder areas, as called for by the care review. As recommended by the care review, they will co-work such cases with family help teams. In addition, the pathfinders will test the national panel’s proposal to set up multi-agency teams consisting of social workers, police officers and health professionals to carry out child protection work. The DfE will also consult on new multi-agency child protection standards as part of a review of Working Together to Safeguard Children in 2023.
  • Independent reviewing officers and child protection conference chairs: The DfE has rejected the care review’s proposal to abolish the independent reviewing officer role. Instead, it has proposed to review and strengthen it. The strategy did not reference the care review’s separate proposal to abolish the child protection conference chair role.
  • Involving family networks: The 12 pathfinders will test using family group decision-making, such as family group conferences, at an early stage to support parents minimise risks to children. In addition, seven areas will test providing family support network packages providing resources to help families care for children and avoid them going into care.
  • Kinship care: A kinship care strategy will be published in 2023 while £9m will be spent on improving training and support for kinship carers. The government will also explore the case for the care review’s recommendations of a financial allowance and the extension of legal aid for those who become special guardians or responsible for children through child arrangements orders.
  • Foster care: £27m will be spent on a carer recruitment and retention programme over the next two years focused on shortage areas, such as sibling groups, teenagers, unaccompanied children, parent and child placements and children who have suffered complex trauma. The care review called for the recruitment of 9,000 carers over three years. In addition, foster carers will receive an above-inflation rise in minimum allowances to deal with rising costs.
  • Commissioning care placements: The DfE has backed the care review’s proposal to transfer responsibility for the commissioning of care placements from individual councils to regional groupings of authorities, regional care co-operatives (RCCs), which will initially be tested in two pathfinder areas before being rolled out. It has also accepted the CMA’s proposal to commission a national body to provide help for authorities/RCCs in forecasting demand and procurement. It said these measures would address the insufficiency of placements for children in care, improve outcomes and tackle the excess profit-making identified by the CMA among the largest providers.
  • Financial oversight of providers: It will also introduce a financial oversight regime for the largest children’s home providers and independent fostering agencies (IFAs), similar to that for adult social care, to reduce the risks of providers exiting the market suddenly.
  • Relationships for children in care and care leavers: £30m will be spent on family finding, befriending and mentoring programmes for looked-after children and care leavers, to help them find and maintain relationships, as the care review recommended.
  • Support for care leavers: The suggested grant made available to children leaving care will increase from £2,000 to £3,000, while the bursary for those undertaking apprenticeships will rise from £1,000 to £3,000, broadly in line with care review recommendations.
  • Care experience: The DfE has rejected the care review’s call for care experience to become a protected characteristic under equality law, which would have required public bodies to tackle inequalities facing those with care experience and prohibit businesses and employers from discriminating against them. The department said it had heard significant concerns that self-declaration of care experience would increase stigma and that other measures in the strategy – including extending corporate parenting requirements to bodies other than local authorities – would have more impact.
  • National standards and outcomes: The DfE will consult on a children’s social care national framework, as proposed by the review, setting expected outcomes for children and families that should be achieved by all local authorities. The proposed outcomes would be for children and families to stay together and get the support they need, for children to be supported by their family network and to be safe in and out of home and for children in care and care leavers to have stable, loving homes. These will be underpinned by two “enablers”: that the workforce is equipped and effective and leaders drive conditions for effective practice. Ofsted inspections will be aligned to the national framework.
  • Disabled children: The DfE will ask the Law Commission to review the law on social care for disabled children, which the government said was a “patchwork of outdated legislation which leads both to variation in the services provided and to confusing, often safeguarding-focused routes to accessing support”.

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6 Responses to DfE care review response: key points

  1. Alec Fraher February 8, 2023 at 12:19 am #

    The move towards RCC’s must be tested against the specific limitations of using public procure procedure not suited to the job. I know because I still have the scars from having reviewed the procurement and contracting of children’s services at regional, subregional and local levels.

    Contract aggregates will usually exceed, and by massive margins, the spend authority of individual Councils. Crucially, placement contracts negotiation will have primacy over the Child’s Care Plan.

    Disruption events are likely to be used to bump-up costs outside that first procured; during my time as an OAP IRO risk determinations were engineered to drive up cost, and children manipulated by incentives to misbehave. This impacts secure reviews too.

    The history, dating back to 2007, of Regional Commissioning isn’t good. It is in fact very poor. There is no basis to establish a ‘freedom of contract’ and that’s because there isn’t a relevant market. There’s no reliable source of information to establish what is going on.

    And, sickeningly, the Information Rights of the RCC, the actual Contracting Authority and Providers will, in law, work against, and forcefully so, any individual child or family redress or representation when something goes wrong.

    Before the DofE accepts the CMA saying it’s OK to proceed the relationship between Front Frontline, Boston Consulting and the free advertising of Camilla Cavendish in the FT must be tested against a full and proper public debate in the HofC.

    The Government ought to be minded about how children’s fatalities bring down their Departments, especially in the run up to an election year. And, especially when the very issues of dodgy procurement and clichés milking public money are etched in the public minds.

    The IROs are going to be busy. Do do underestimate the nefarious (in)vested influences indrectly running children’s services, and which will touch uncomfortably up against what should be vetted out. I do hope that information from iicsa, operationation hydrant and the yew tree inquiry has been weighed-in and weighted by the DofE. It’s obviously out side the scope of the CMA to consider this type of thing.

    The due diligence, pressure of time and volume of work aren’t good bedfellows. When I did the review both SW’s and Contracting Staff were very, very scared to go on record. Largely because the arrangements made don’t meet with mandatory information management requirements.

    This means that child protection legislation is undermined by the secondary legislation embedded in the FOIA.

    The DofE historic use of outsourcing shapes the prevailing case law definitions of the term ‘to hold information’.

    That this derogation is derived from the Outsourcing and Contracting Regulations Act 1994 is though problematic. That the Outsourcing and Contracting Regulations Act 1994 is, in other words, on the face of the Children Act 2004 is wrong.

    The Care Act 2014 has the same derogation of statute to the Outsourcing andContractingRegulations Act 1994.

    The net impact is to undermine what are, previously Council held responsibility, a life-time or 100yr obligations owed by the State and originating from the Office of the Dutchy(sp) and granted to, in this instance, the Child.These duties supercede that of the SofS for Education.

    It’s about constitutional rights and obligations owed to the child.

    In my contact with Council CEO’s, during the course of my review, most CEO’s were on balance more concerned with the macro-economic welfare of the city or region. Priority will always be given to the night-time economy over and above the protection of children and families from harm.

    More detailed work is needed, I have asked my MP to raise the concerns I have. And, he has.

    *btw the ontological essence or basis of social work is rather unsurprisingly, Advocacy. It’s said, that Advocacy arises from the ethic of caring. Of entering into a relationship with another human being and acting on your own convictions to them and as if they were your own*

  2. Alec Fraher February 8, 2023 at 6:02 pm #

    If the CMA says there’s a market most will believe it.

    Sure, there’s economic activity but what sort is it.

    It’s for the public through open and rigorous parliamentary debate to say whether this actually is of a general economic, and therefore limited to ill-equipped procure procedures like Part B Open and Restricted Tendering or is actually Part A procurement and suited to the more nuanced procure procedure, like competitive dialogue. The actual behaviour of commissioning is in keeping with Part A competitive procurement process yet uses Part B procure procedure.

    It’s the same, by comparison, as using nurse or doctors holding powers without any follow through with either a s2 or s3 authority to remove a person’s liberty, by reason of the nature and degree of a mental illness and detain them in hospital. It’s wrong. An examination of, say, s20 accommodation or placement with parent regs in repeated failure in foster/adoption care placements would point to similar short circuits. These are the perverse incentives that have created a quasi-market place.

    Earlier, like last year, the press coverage of the CMA report said described the scenario as ‘Sleep Walking’ ( The Guardian) into a mess.

    The thorny issues of what constitutes and maintains the principle of solidarity, once an EU/EC competence, are now a measure of UK competence. The Country level delegations to the Scottish and Welsh government’s aren’t mentioned. My experience of the Scottish arrangements and use of public procurement is, and refreshingly so, radically different to English Authorities. Put simply, children aren’t lots to be bid against.

    The adoption of Regional Commissioning platforms not only further alienates individual Councils, as the purchasing authority, who must retain the actual duty of care responsibilities owed to individual children and their families.
    It also muddies their wider duties not to create the conditions which cause harm. OAP have always been contentious for this very reason. Out of sight is out of mind.

    Without greater thought and detail on how these proposals actually work the measures will only add to the ‘Black Bag’ experience of children and young people in care.

    Commissioning as a procurement procedure most be more clearly specified, and this is entirely possible, and entered into the appropriate statutes and statutory instructions to afford social workers the assurance needed when making placements. The rigour of due diligence, gained through the use of competitive procure procedure maybe an uncomfortable bedfellow. I am yet to find, and I’ve looked at these matters since 2006/7, any ethically compatible path.

    The MacAlister Review asked for greater Advocacy and I agree with this but for entirely different reasons.

    Where’s the House of Lords, who created the provisions for the IRO, when they’re needed, eh!

  3. Alec Fraher February 8, 2023 at 7:38 pm #

    How does the DofE reconcile the difference between investment in Foster Care Agencies and Kinship Care.

    Managing markets, even when they’re quasi-market,is about understanding anti-trust behaviour and accrued dominance of position.

    How long will it be before the RCC’s become the dominant provider? That is what has happened before and is, sadly, a sewn in competitive strategy irrespective of first intentions.

    All regionally organised procurement hubs have historically behaved this way. It’s not all bad. But the learning is from transport and construction which hardly speaks to transparency and openness, let alone ethical standards of a children’s care.

    Do we Care? Professionally bodies such as, CIMA and Cipfa have suggested we don’t. Is professional arrogance a silence to be broken.

    What’s the sell-by-date for LASSA, 2030?

  4. Alec Fraher February 10, 2023 at 1:04 pm #

    What is going to happen to the Child when the responsible commissioner makes decisions that the contracting authority has no idea about or would sign off on. And who has the information management responsibility that would allow an IRO free and easy access to all the information needed for review. ?

    The CQC, years back now, made clear that issues of market developing and management were way outside their remit. Their own internal methodology team were though ignored.

    PA Consulting were ushered to write and lead on then DofH consultation on the very same issue. PA Consulting ‘engaged’ an existing SofS for Communities to lead on the proposals dressing them up as increasing patients choice. The LGA were soon kept on side.

    Nigel Parton, ages ago now, wrote about the deep and surface structures in social work. I don’t know what he’s doing on but he was an authority in Child Protection.

    Messages from Research, I think, totalled 21 separate research initiatives like that of Parton’s from Huddersfield University. The University of York made similar contributions on the organisation of organisations, and especially the role of a radical middle ground in social work. Lena Dominelli writing with Robert Adams, who incidentally does know about how nefarious and criminal interests manifest in social work, wrote about the impact of managerialism. The late, Alan Maynard warned that we continue to experiment on vulnerable populations with absolutely zero learning. Rudolf Klein, decades ago made the same warning of an increased risk of what he calls causualisation through the fudged deregulated mechanism of a market approach. And, now almost 70 years ago, Adorno writing in Minima Moralia spoke of the problem of systemically creating ‘blackmail’.

    The current proposals lack any depth of understanding in the administrative arrangements of and information management requirements of actually Working Together. The current facinanation with AI will only paint the pictures the data can read. It’s an incomplete dot-to-dot. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. We may well know about the bit we’re touching but there’s no reliable oversight. How the hell can manager’s manage and their staff trust in their judgement?

    Trust is a precondition of effective supervision. Anyone familiar with parallel planning knows that breeches of trust show up in subsequent service planning. Records management is where this shows up. The legal gap filled by the creation of the IRO just got way bigger. And staggeringly so.

    I have procured Information Management Systems and for sure they’re worth having but never at the expense of social work judgement in decision-making.

    * for cpd see the work of Amy.L.Fraher on Decision Making in High Risk Teams and Michael Spivey, on Discovery in Complex Adaptive Systems. Spivey deals with the false pictures, or AI generated, ontic-quales (the value we attach) to data. Fraher, is a distant US cousin and former fighter jet pilot. Erin Fraher, incidentally, has written about the role of social work when developing integrated team approaches. She’s also a distant US cousin. The importance of which relates to the UK propensity of aping the US for trade purposes and neglecting the Scandinavians. Without a clear steer about the long-term protection of Health and Social Work from I’ll suited competitive processes and our professionals being abused within the UK UKREITs fatal mistakes are always more likely.*

    *I am formerly Alec Fraher FMICoP, MIHM, AASW which meant I held expert level accreditation in the commissioning of health and social work services. I have trained in social work, public procurement and management accounting previously by Cipfa*

  5. Alec Fraher February 10, 2023 at 6:57 pm #

    Is the oversight body going to mean the creation of a special authority, like the Mental Health Act Commission; a Children’s Act Commission?

    Will, say, the Children’s Act Commission employ the IRO?

    Where’s the detail and consultation?


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