The Care Review: The starting pistol for a new era of care?

Wednesday 15 December 2021
Serious teen leaning against wall

Today, Action for Children submits its final recommendations for how to improve the children’s social care system in England. Senior Policy Advisor Sam Atwell reflects on the legacy of the Care Review for the children and families we work with

This is the first of a three-part series on the Care Review.

It is only rarely that children and families in care reach the top of the political priorities list. Speak to any young person in care, you are likely to hear a similar refrain: ‘no one listens to me – no one cares what I think’. One child we spoke to told us this was the first time they’d ever heard about the government talking about people in care.

Josh Macallister’s Care Review, which is due to make its recommendations to government next spring, is the latest in a long line of government reviews into how we should support our most vulnerable children and families.

At the outset of the process, the Care Review challenged the sector with an important question:

“What will need to be different about this review’s recommendations compared to previous reviews so that they create a tipping point for improvement?”

Learning the right lessons: prevention is better than cure

In truth, it often takes a tragedy like the recent killing of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes for national attention to be given to the essential role that children’s services play in keeping children safe and helping families stay together.

In some cases, reacting to these tragedies has prevented government from thinking ambitiously about what is best for children and families. Since the horrific death of Baby P in 2007, the number of children under the care of local authorities has soared, whilst early intervention services to support families before they reach crisis have undergone a managed decline.

early and late intervention spend graph.png

Source: Pro Bono Economics and the Children’s Services Funding Alliance

Today, for every £1 spend on early intervention, local authorities spend more than £4 pounds on crisis response.

This is not what anyone wants. Not least the children and young people the system is designed to serve, who tell us time and time again they want to have safe and loving relationships with their family.

It will take time to build a preventative care system

Taking the lead from the children and families we work with, we hope the Care Review can be the starting pistol for a new era of children’s social care.

In this new era, it should no longer take a crisis for a family to get the help they need, or for policy makers to sit up and take notice.

There is no conflict between supporting families and protecting children. The best way to keep children safe is to help as many children as possible before they are harmed, not once they are in need.

A future of ‘early’ family help

When we look back on this review, we hope there will be two clear legacies. First, that the review was the beginning of renewed and sustained energy for early intervention across government and wider civil society

Second, that the review broadened our ambitions from protecting vulnerable children and we start to focus more on supporting the whole family to thrive.

These goals are long term projects, and change will not happen overnight. As government responds to the recommendations of the Care Review, we will continue to work with our children and families to highlight the issues, give a platform to those who rarely get heard, and to develop ideas for a better future of children’s social care.

Contact the author

To learn more about our response to the Care Review’s ‘Call for Ideas’, please contact Senior Policy Adviser Sam Atwell: [email protected]