Children’s social care gets fifth minister in two years

David Johnston succeeds Claire Coutinho as children's social care faces among biggest reform agendas in decades

Children's minister David Johnston
Children's minister David Johnston

Children’s social care has its fifth minister in two years, following today’s cabinet reshuffle.

David Johnston has succeeded Claire Coutinho as minister for children, families and wellbeing, after her elevation to the cabinet as energy secretary.

Coutinho spent just 10 months in post, though this was longer than her two immediate predecessors with responsibility for the sector – Kelly Tolhurst and Brendan Clarke-Smith – each of whom lasted two months, amid the turbulence of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’s premierships. Before that, Will Quince spent 10 months as children’s minister.

Johnston’s appointment comes with children’s social care facing one of its biggest periods of reform in decades, on the back of the Department for Education’s (DfE) draft strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love, issued in February.

Priorities for new minister

As part of this, his in-tray includes:

He must also wrestle with the severe pressures in the care system for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, in the wake of a High Court judgment that ruled the government’s policy of routinely placing young people in hotels was unlawful.

However, he must balance these children’s social care duties with responsibilities for a range of other policy areas, including special educational needs and disability (SEND) and childcare, for which the government is also planning extensive reform.

An MP since 2019, Johnston’s background is in the voluntary sector, where he spent a decade leading the Social Mobility Foundation, a charity that supports young people from low-income backgrounds get into university and professional roles.

BASW concern

In response to the appointment, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England raised concerns about the turnover of children’s ministers.

While wishing Johnston well, BASW England said his appointment “sadly sends a message that a sustainable and consistent ministerial approach to children, their families and wellbeing is not a political priority for this government”.

“At a time of major upheaval and reform in children’s social care in England, we desperately need a leadership that is focused on the needs of children and families, not political ambitions,” it added. “The fact that Johnston is the fifth minister to take on this role in two years should worry all of us who want to see stability and support that is too often denied to the very children the minister seeks to represent.”

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2 Responses to Children’s social care gets fifth minister in two years

  1. Charlotte September 1, 2023 at 9:52 am #

    There have been 13 SEND ministerial changes since the 2014 reforms, with 12 different ministers (Ed Timpson held it twice and Kemi Badenoch was maternity cover). How many more will fail vulnerable children?

  2. dk September 4, 2023 at 4:03 pm #

    Still, not as many changes in social worker as children have to put up. Chin up!