'Don't call me a case': Five things the Care Review should recommend to improve our care system
The Independent Review of Children's Social Care is a rare opportunity to improve the lives of children and families. We have worked with young people and our frontline staff to respond to some big questions posed by the Review’s recent ‘Case for Change’ report
The children’s social care system is an essential service that plays a key role in many families’ lives. A recent study estimated that as many as one in five children will be referred to children’s services before their 16th birthday. The ongoing review of children’s social care is a therefore significant moment to improve the support that is offered to millions of children and families across the UK.
To respond to the early findings of the Review, we have spoken to staff and young people across Action for Children’s Services. Here’s five things we think the Review should recommend that government changes to improve the lives of children who come into contact with the social care system.
We asked care-experienced young people to tell us what a care system that is good enough for all children would look like.
A common theme was that young people want to be 'trusted' and 'known' by the professionals in their life. They want to live a 'normal life', going out to meet their friends or get a haircut without any extra hurdles.
We heard that young people want to feel 'loved', and that too often 'there is a gap of love' in the care system.
The review needs to make sure all its recommendations focus on creating a care system that respects the identities of young people and involves them in decisions. And as one young person told us...
"Don't call me a case!"
The Care Review stresses the importance of services that support families to stay together and help children to thrive. It calls these services, which local authorities are responsible for, 'family help'.
There is a lot of evidence that when families can access these services early, it can prevent children from suffering greater harm. These services are also great value for money, compared to help that only arrives at crisis point.
But despite this, funding for family help has been cut. Our recent research found that spending on early stage services for families has fallen by 48% over the last decade. In the poorest areas of England, the cuts are even deeper, at 59%.
The result is that we are left waiting for children to be harmed before they are offered help.
Inconsistent policymaking is behind these cuts. For too long, government funding to support families has arrived in dribs and drabs. To provide family help services, Local Authorities often have to balance lots of small funding pots, each with different goals. Many of these funding pots are short-term, making it hard for local authorities to plan ahead.
To tackle this, we have recommended that government commits to a single long-term fund for local authorities to provide family help.
On top of the funding issue, the law on family help needs clarification. Local authorities have a clear legal responsibility to provide care for children with high levels of need. The same is not true for families that have lower levels of need. As a result, there are big gaps between the amount of family help on offer between different areas of the country. To tackle these problems, we have recommended that government:
- Introduces a new legal duty for local authorities to provide family help, clarifying the existing law; and
- Publishes a set of national targets for family help, to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals for children.
When a child cannot live with their birth family, it is the responsibility of the local authority to find a place for them to live that meets their needs.
Kinship care is when a child is looked after by an extended family member or family friend. Like foster care, it enables the child to grow up in their home community.
We have recommended that kinship and foster care placements should be considered, where appropriate, before a child is placed in a children's home.
However, we know that for some children, residential care in a children's home is the best (or only) option. In these cases, local authorities must ensure that the children's home can meet the needs of the child, before they make this decision.
When a child returns to their birth parents after spending time in care, it can be a difficult time for a family. This process is called 'reunification' and is an often-overlooked part of the care system.
Whether a reunification is successful or not can depend on lots of things, such as the age of the child and how long they spent in care. If families are well supported through this process, it could help reduce the number of children re-entering care, following the breakdown of a reunification.
However, there is no consistent approach to family reunification across the country. To tackle this, we have recommended that government publishes national guidance on how to support families before, during and after reunification.
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If you have any questions or would like to get in touch, please email Senior Policy Adviser Sam Atwell: [email protected]