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:
- An overarching strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love.
- A report proposing reforms to agency social work.
- A proposed national framework, setting standards and outcomes for children’s services.
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”.