Case for Change – a NCERCC abbreviated version
(original = 103 pages – NCERCC = 15)
An interpretation of the evidence
Asks for ideas, views and further evidence
poor life experiences and outcomes. This is not a criticism of the many dedicated professionals who work to improve the lives of children and families, nor is it a criticism of any individual government – but it is a call to action.
Inequality – deprivation = weight of evidence showing a contributory causal relationship between income, maltreatment and state intervention in family life is strong enough to warrant widespread acceptance (Bywaters, Bunting, et al., 2016). This does not mean children’s social care is powerless. The fact that services can either deepen or alleviate these inequalities should grip us
Govt and families together – intervene early
We need to do more to help families
In the majority of cases, families become involved with children’s social care because they are parenting in conditions of adversity, rather than because they have caused or are likely to cause significant harm to their children.
Communities can also play a key role in supporting families, in some cases removing the need for statutory intervention.
Families look for support – no meaningful support available
there is an inherent tension between the objectives of a service that protects children and tries to support families.
Investing in family help matters – but more money alone is not a silver bullet. There must be a clearer definition of what ‘family help’ is, it must be high quality, based on good evidence and those doing this work must be confident holding risk. We have offered an initial definition of a family help service to start this conversation. This description is a starting point for debate which we will evolve in the next stage of the review.
We need a child protection system that keeps children safe through more effective support and decisive action
Social workers have to make complex and challenging decisions every day, balancing how to protect a child from harm, whilst keeping families together where possible. We need a system that gives them the skills and confidence to do this. Yet, process continues to dominate over direct work with families, and decision making and risk assessment are too often underpinned by a lack of knowledge. Information sharing problems remain across agencies despite decades of reviews calling for greater sharing
When children have met the threshold of child protection and are at risk of serious harm, we need to be more decisive in providing effective support for families, and in making decisions if it is clear that support will not lead to enough change.
Court proceedings – adversarial + high human and economic costs – more work is needed to promote solution finding and non-adversarial approaches before children and families are taken to court. Shared and supported care options could help keep families safely together without the need for breaking family ties.
Family = Kinship and adoption
Curb repeat involvement
The care system must build not break relationships
Many of the current problems we see in the care system are symptomatic of the state trying and failing to provide a relationship as a service. The review will consider whether the state should instead play the role of enabling lifelong loving relationships for children in care. (!!!)
Care too often weakens rather than strengthens relationships: no one providing emotional support, moved far from where they have grown up, are separated from their brothers or sisters, are forced to move schools, and have a revolving door of social workers. We are failing to build lifelong loving relationships around these children.
The “placement market” is broken: we need a pragmatic re-think with all options considered. …We need to ask, if we were creating care today that was good enough for all our children, what would it look like?
Change will not happen without addressing the system causes
There is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more – the choice is whether this investment is spent on reform which achieves long term sustainability and better outcomes, or propping up an increasingly expensive and inadequate existing system.
??? We don’t do enough to understand the collective costs of poor outcomes for children in contact with social care when we think about the case for investment.
??? There is insufficient national coordination of policy for children in contact with children’s social care and more effective strategic direction and coordinated central government policy is essential to meet the needs of children and families
One in three of all social workers in children’s services do not work directly with children or families (Department for Education, 2021a). Even those in direct practice spend less than 1/3rd of their time with families (Department for Education, 2020a). This is a staggering misuse of the greatest asset that children’s social care has – its social workers.
There is more to do to recruit, retain and support social care staff, including a high quality social work workforce. Burnout is high (Department for Education, 2020a), supervision is often infrequent and inadequate, the use of agency staff is costly (Kantar, 2020), and leadership turnover is too high (ADCS, 2021).
“Top down” approaches to reform focused on statutory duties and entitlements are well intentioned but can have negative and unintended consequences, adding to the bureaucracy and inflexibility of the system.
“Bottom up” approaches to develop and spread good practice have played an important role, but there is a limit to the progress that can be made without changes to the fundamental drivers and forces in the system.
This document asks big questions about how the system should change
What do you think the purpose of children’s social care should be?
We’re not doing enough for families
Communities and places can both positively affect health through the services they provide and the resources they have, as well as through supporting the development of “social capital” (referring to the networks and social trust we hold which facilitate cooperation for mutual benefit) (Putnam, 1995), cohesion and feelings of safety – all of which are associated with lower stress and better physical and mental health (Marmot et al., 2020).
Eg Shared Lives Plus11 who are testing the Family by Family model12 in the UK, pairing families who have had challenging experiences with those who are currently experiencing difficulties
When the state needs to step in, the focus should be support not investigation
Cross agency working
The review has consistently heard from parents and families who came to children’s social care looking for support, but their experience of being assessed often added stress to an already difficult situation
Hertfordshire Family Safeguarding Model
There is a bigger, systemic issue here in the form of a tension between the two parts of the system: protection and support. That is why, in the next stage of the review, we want to explore how we can address this tension to ensure both support for families and child protection is done well.
Investing in help for families matters – but more money alone is not a silver bullet
more money without reform could lead to more child protection work and more children in care. I
inconsistency and uncertainty of response
there is emerging evidence that there are links between spending on help for families and reduced demand on children’s social care. This contradicts evidence that has been cited, including by the NAO (National Audit Office, 2019), that failed to find an association between preventative spend and numbers of children in care.
The more recent evidence takes into account underlying trends within and between local authorities and looks at all preventative services, using analysis that was not available to previous research (Webb, n.d.)
a range of interventions that have good evidence of strengthening family relationships and improving outcomes for children. The Early Intervention Foundation has identified a range of approaches (from universal services, targeted support, and specialist child protection interventions across different age ranges) with good evidence of improving outcomes on behalf of the review
As we move to the next stage of the review, we intend to investigate how to support the use of some of the best-evidenced approaches and how these can be best delivered.
Essex County Council approach to supporting families
. Policy makers and practitioners refer to this sort of support by various terms, including “early help”, “preventative services”, “early intervention”, “family support” and “targeted support” but we lack precision about what this means for families, what positive outcomes it can achieve, and what our expectation is on local areas about what should be provided.
there is significant variation in what families are offered and it is very difficult to get a grasp of what it all adds up to and the impact it has (Lewing et al., 2020). At the moment, it is very hard to determine the collective output of spend on support for families (beyond the promising evidence described above) and this makes it harder to make the case for more resources.
we need to define what the review will refer to as “family help” actually is. We will share a comprehensive description when we publish our final recommendations which will be based on consultation with children and families. However, in an effort to start this conversation, we are proposing the initial following definition of family help and the types of services this might include based on discussions we have had so far. This description is a starting point for debate which we will stress test and evolve in the next stage of the review
A possible definition of “family help”
The aim of Family Help should be to improve children’s lives through supporting the family unit and strengthening family relationships to enable children to thrive and keep families together, helping them to provide the safe, nurturing environments that children need.
Family Help should be high quality, evidence-led and delivered by skilled professionals who are able to engage families and build trusting and supportive relationships with them. In delivering this support, Family Help should recognise that all families need help at times, and that does not mean there is a child protection concern. It should be able to confidently hold risk whilst also being equipped to recognise child protection issues.
Support offered has to be grounded in the context of family life, including the communities and circumstances in which families live. It should build on families’ strengths, drawing on the wider relationships that families have, and on the capacity and potential for support and advice from within local communities, including schools and voluntary organisations. It should offer support at the level that a family needs in order for them to function well with the aim of avoiding ongoing service involvement.
This help should be available to any family that is facing significant challenges that could pose a threat to providing their child with a loving, stable, safe family life. This includes parents of children with disabilities and teenagers, adopters and kinship carers. It should seek to understand and respond to the whole range of challenges families face, and work with wider services and partners to support families and avoid them falling between services. Whilst we would expect the cohort of families who receive Family Help to be primarily those who are currently receiving early help, subject to a Child in Need plan or alongside a Child Protection Plan, there should be porous boundaries and access to the support should not be dependent on a statutory assessment.
Family Help would provide support with: parenting, helping parents and carers to manage their child’s behaviour; improving the relationship between parents; supporting families to protect their children from exploitation or harm within their community; and providing respite for parents of children with disabilities. It would support adults with challenges that impact on children, including support with parental substance misuse, mental health, physical disabilities or domestic abuse, as well as helping to manage and mitigate other stresses on families such as poor housing and debt.
What is the role of the Children’s Social Care system in strengthening communities rather than just providing services?
How do we address the tension between protection and support in Children’s Social Care that families describe?
Is a system which undertakes both support for families and child protection impeded in its ability to do both well?
What do you think about our proposed definition of family help? What would you include or exclude?
Chapter three: We need a child protection system that keeps children safe through more effective support and decisive action
A more effective and compassionate response to families facing conditions of adversity will improve the lives of many children and families and remove them from unnecessary and intrusive levels of state intervention. However, there will always be children that are at risk of serious harm and ensuring the safety of a child through child protection and family law processes remains a central role of the children’s social care system. This chapter focuses on these children and how we can increase the resources of families and the wider community to keep them as safe and close to a family environment as is possible whilst acting decisively where children require protection.
Decision making and risk assessment related to harm is too inconsistent and often isn’t good enough
Effective and consistent decision making is crucial to both reducing these numbers and instigating decisive action where it is necessary. We all need to be comfortable that uncertainty and risk are features of child protection work and risk cannot be eliminated in children’s social care (E. Munro, 2011). Attempting to fully eradicate risk leads to other forms of harm including disruptive over-investigation, severing important relationships and children being removed unnecessarily. In managing this balance between under and over intervention, practitioners have to analyse and integrate a broad range of usually incomplete information, often in the context of high-anxiety and in a system and organisation that do not help hold that risk. We need to build a system that provides social workers with the skills, knowledge and support to make these difficult decisions with confidence.
The quality and variation of decision making across the system requires attention. We know that poor risk assessment and decision making is the most prevalent practice issue in the small number of cases with the worst outcomes
Variation in thersholds
The conditions for effective decision making
We have to recognise that much of what is described in this section was identified in the Laming and Munro Reviews.18 Munro’s diagnosis of the ‘causal loops’ driving an overly process driven approach to risk assessment without space for professional expertise still holds true (E. Munro, 2011). W
Lack of knowledge to properly identify and assess risk.
Defensive practice, including overestimating risk, logging disagreements with managers, sticking rigidly to process, and even avoiding supervision to avoid blame (Whittaker & Havard, 2016). This combination of factors contribute to ineffective and inconsistent decision making.
The work of getting to know children and families is crucial to social workers’ understanding and assessment of risk. They need to hold detailed information about the child and family across different domains from child development, to education and addiction, and balance a family’s challenges against their resources. They also need to be able to notice indirect communication and recognise changes in behaviour
Increase in ch protection means less time to identify and support the children who are most at risk (Department for Education, 2021d). Social workers spend less than 1/3 of their time doing working directly with children and families (Department for Education, 2020a). One parent we spoke to explained “We need to break down the barriers on trust, and practitioners need time to build relationships, which they are not given.”
need to build systems and organisations that are resilient to anxiety and that are happy to hold risk and consider complexity instead of defensively following process.
Reflective supervision – need to increase
lack of detailed knowledge in the social work and wider workforce in identifying and understanding specific risks -SW and Judicial
Proceduralisation and siloed working
overreliance on proceduralised risk assessment
weak evidence toxic trio
simplified and poorly-evidenced risk assessments led to false and missed identification
tools are no substitute for a relationship with and knowledge about a child (Beckett et al., 2017)
Close multi-agency working with a shared understanding of risk, information sharing and compatible working practices are also crucial to decision making. However there is much to do in this area
Professionals and parents trying to safeguard teenagers facing harm outside of the home, are being failed by a system that was not designed for the task.
confused response across the system
A review of a small number of cases related to harms outside the home suggested that progression of cases required social workers to attribute harm to parental care or control, even when the risks identified were harms outside the home (Lloyd & Firmin, 2020). Social work tools and processes in their traditional forms such as child protection conferences, unannounced visits and work on parenting capacity are ineffective in responding and managing risk outside of the home (The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, 2020)
review of a small number of cases related to harms outside the home suggested that progression of cases required social workers to attribute harm to parental care or control, even when the risks identified were harms outside the home (Lloyd & Firmin, 2020). Social work tools and processes in their traditional forms such as child protection conferences, unannounced visits and work on parenting capacity are ineffective in responding and managing risk outside of the home (The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, 2020).
we now need a widespread change in how the police and other services respond to vulnerable teenagers on an everyday basis (What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, 2020).
The effects of this response on children and teenagers
ombination of these ineffective approaches that do not disrupt the actual risks children face in their communities means that around one in ten young people open to children’s services due to harms outside the home are moved away from their homes in response to an immediate risk to the physical safety of a child or their family (Firmin et al., 2020
safety but false relief, often short lived and can be to the detriment of a child’s relationships and psychological well-being (Firmin, 2019).
No Wrong Door
When cases escalate there needs to be more decisive action and the right support
More effective support
be more decisive in providing effective and intensive support to tackle often complex, entrenched and sometimes intergenerational issues. We also need to be more decisive in making decisions if it is clear that support will not lead to enough change
repeat plans (14,540, 21.9%) (Department for Education, 2021d). These figures are too high, child protection should sustainably reduce risk in most cases. Assessment without supportive intervention makes it hard to monitor and reduce risk, and too often results in a critical incident followed by court applications driven by a crisis response.
For change to happen local authorities need the resources to provide support, and courts need to trust that they will provide it and not be critical when this has taken time.
good evidence that intensive support can help families at the edge of care (as set out in the box below) and avoid unnecessary removals, but there is unequal provision across the country driven in part by the disparity in Local Authority resources and approaches.
Examples of edge of care interventions
Intensive family prevention services have been shown to be effective at diverting from court over up to 2 years
Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) s
Issuing care proceedings
Costly. Pre-proceedings and 26 week rule cut numbers
Promising practice: approaches to avoiding court
Family Group Conferences
We should find stability and permanency for children where they cannot remain with their families and kinship should be prioritised and supported
When we do remove children from their birth parents, we need to ensure they are cared for in consistent and loving relationships that support their development and identity.
This shows that by identifying potential kinship arrangements sooner the number of moves children experience after being removed can be reduced
Lack of support
perverse incentives such as kinship carers needing to be assessed as foster carers in order to access resources or as an alternative children to be placed in unrelated foster care increasing the number of moves they experience and the loss of existing connections they have. Issues such as this make the system dysfunctional.
scope to increase the number of children who can grow up in the care of their wider family and get the benefits that come from a stronger sense of identity and lifelong loving connections. This could also provide savings in the system and more broadly
adopters that they often feel let down without enough support when bringing up their children who often have complex needs and behaviour
More needs to be done to support parents who have their children removed
Failing to break multi-generational cycles of adversity and child protection intervention.
Examples of programmes supporting mothers post removal
Positive Choices and MPower
balance to be struck between stability by not returning children home unless there is a very good chance of success, but in order to be able to do this support for families must be provided. This comprises supporting ongoing safe relationships with birth families when a child is in care and support for the birth family when a child returns home. Professor Farmer’s review of return-home practice showed insufficient assessment and support for families
- How do we raise the quality of decision making in child protection?
- How do we fill the accountability gap in order to take effective action to keep teenagers safe?
- What can we do to support and grow kinship care?
- Given the clear evidence of positive outcomes and value for money of programmes that support parents at the edge of care and post removal why aren’t they more widely available and what will it take to make this the case?
Chapter four: Care must build rather than break relationships
There is more we can do to keep children safely out of care. However, the reality is there will always be some children where the state needs to step in and provide a place of safety and love that can support them to thrive.
failed to create a system that prioritises and creates loving relationships. Any parent would say that love is essential for raising their own children, so why do we accept anything less for children in care?
n a system of experienced and dedicated professionals why have we continued to create new roles, meetings and entitlements but still for many children fail to create loving homes and lifelong relationships that nurture individuals through childhood and into adulthood
How many parents don’t know where their child is at 30, 40 or 50? How many would not offer support and love for their children at whatever age they needed it. This is not true for all children, many people have difficult family relationships but our expectation is that for the majority of people these bonds last a lifetime. They support them through transitions, celebrate successes and offer unconditional love. If we were not bound by the system as it exists today and were creating something completely new, something that would be good enough for all our children, would ‘leaving care’ exist?
Many of the issues identified in the chapter that follows are symptomatic of the state trying to provide a relationship as a service. The next stage of the review will consider whether the state should instead play the role of enabling lifelong loving relationships for children in care. That is why our main question about care is: if we were creating care today that was good enough for all of our children what would it look like?
Care does not do enough to strengthen relationships
When children enter care they are separated from the most significant adults in their lives, even if with good reason. Children often do not have an understanding about what is happening and why, they do not get a chance to say goodbye or seek comfort from the adults and friends that are important to them.
Loss of school and friends
We are not doing enough to help children and teenagers in care build lifelong relationships that can hold memories, identity and a sense of belonging and too often we are investing in relationships that get severed once children ‘leave care’ or when a professional leaves their role. We heard repeatedly through our engagement and have seen it echoed in much of the literature, that there is a care ‘cliff-edge’ not only of support available but of important relationships. Not only do young people go from having multiple adults supporting them to sometimes just an individual, they also have to change from their social worker to a personal adviser, meaning that for some young people no relationships are preserved at a time when everything in their lives are in transition.
Relationships are central to development for all children and particularly so for children in care who have experienced significant trauma. Positive psychological development requires consistent loving care from infancy to adulthood and whilst adversity in early childhood can be a threat to healthy development, providing children with warm and loving care and stimulation can help them recover from those experiences. For children who have experienced negative or inconsistent parenting, developing secure relationships is even more important (Centre for Parenting & Research & Research, Funding & Business Analysis Division, 2006). Children tell us about the importance of relationships
Keeping children close to their community:
Reliable homes, schools, social workers
Nurture ongoing relationships with family
Growing childfen’s network of relationships
There are not enough homes in the right places with the right support
Fixing this in the long term will take bold and focused action, however, we cannot ignore the current issues and the impact they are having daily on the lives of children.
The “market for care” and the role of commissioning
providers Chapter four 59 The independent review of children’s social care are able to set the terms of engagement. (???)
Local authorities struggle to shape their market (???)
Providers = easier to manage (???)
The review is concerned about the cost, profit, and financial health of providers and the impact of the current system on children. We want a pragmatic re-think given the urgent problems, the complexity of the issues and the fragility of the current system.
We have also asked the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care to work with the Government Outcomes Lab at Oxford University to look at effective models of commissioning that could be applied to children’s social care.(???)
Bedrock of system. We need foster carers who are able to create the loving homes we know that children need and deserve
where children are in long term, stable foster homes outcomes for children in educational achievement and emotional and behavioural well-being were similar to adoption (Biehal et al., 2010)
age demographic and effects
The appetite for change, driven by a lack of capacity in the system, has been evident but the scale of the current response falls far short of the urgent need
residential care is dominating local authorities budgets
recruitment and workforce
Independent and semi-independent accommodation
too many concerning examples where unregulated accommodation leaves 16 and 17 yearolds isolated or even exploited.
What is right for each individual = It is important that there is not an effective lowering of the leaving care age by shunting young people into independent and semi-independent living. However, a ban that would remove the option of high-quality semi-independent homes for 16 and 17 years would be to the detriment of some young people.
It is critical that the introduction of regulation leads to an urgent improvement in the quality of independent and semi-independent homes. New regulation should give transparency about who the providers of the homes are, the type of homes they offer to children and the recourse that will be available to act swiftly to close homes that do not meet these standards. New standards should significantly raise the bar on the quality of support offered to children in these settings. In addition to considering what the right standards are, the Government should go further in setting out a broad and ambitious definition of ‘support’ that Ofsted can inspect against, rather than relying on existing definitions included in their current consultation document that were not designed for this purpose. Any child will have periods of stress, confusion or isolation where they will need a greater level of attention, support and warmth from the adults around them. Any home, including independent and semi-independent living, must be able to provide this. Children in care in these newly regulated homes should have the right to stay beyond the age of 18 and we should also consider how we regulate similar accommodation for under 18s who aren’t in care.
It is notable that even the strongest advocates of a complete ban of the use of independent and semiindependent homes recognise that the alternative would mean “possible modifications” (Blackwell & Samuel, 2021) to existing children’s homes standards so as to make them suitable for older children. Given that there is widespread agreement that these homes need to be regulated and that this regulation may require something different to existing children’s homes regulations, we should be focussed on designing the best possible new quality standards (!!!)
Care for children who need secure accommodation reflects short term siloed thinking across government
There will always be some children for whom a secure setting is necessary for their own or others’ protection. For these children there must be an extremely high threshold to determine this, a clear demonstration of the support being offered and regular review that plans for a move to non-secure settings as soon as possible, in line with the child’s best interests. We would question whether there is no other alternative for the two thirds of children currently placed in secure children’s homes who are victims of sexual exploitation (A. Williams et al., 2020). Importantly we must remember that any secure intervention must be purposeful and prepare a child for returning to a home, whilst the trusted adults around that child are using the time to ensure appropriate support in the community. Secure settings must not be seen as a place to merely ‘contain’ a child.
From those referred to secure but placed in alternative accommodation, nearly half of the children were placed in a children’s residential home. A smaller number were split between independent living, foster care, a mental health hospital or with parents (Williams et al., 2020).
We also know that some children end up in homes which are not a children’s home regulated by Ofsted, but also not a CQC registered CAMHS placement, because they don’t meet the criteria for either kind of placement. This means that bespoke places are being created for children with the most complex needs, which aren’t always as safe as they should be. We need to improve joined-up commissioning, regulation and funding for these arrangements so that very bespoke, safe and loving homes can be approved. This bind that Ofsted and CQC find themselves in as regulators is a fine example of an accumulation of very specific and well intentioned rules having an unintended and negative effect of leading the system to ‘do things right’ rather than ‘do the right thing’. Taking an absolutist approach to defending all existing legal protections without considering these consequences for children.
at present the state is not meeting the needs of a very vulnerable group of children. We desperately need better planning, coordination and investment for this group with leadership across health, justice and children’s social care. Instead of simply doing more of the same, we need to consider the needs of these children and ask whether any home that currently exists is able to meet their needs while still providing a loving environment
we question whether it is appropriate or necessary to send children on remand to secure settings such as these or if there is a better alternative. The Ministry of Justice recently conducted a review of the use of custodial remand for children and the findings will be published shortly
the custodial environment is neither inherently therapeutic nor child friendly”
e lack of join up between health, justice, education and local authorities can be felt most acutely
The state is not the pushy parent children in care need
good care and support is not lacking due to an absence of guidelines, entitlements or focused roles.
Variation in CAMHS, education
Important birthdays are accompanied by unequal and insufficient help
A UK household study shows that two-thirds of 16 to 24 year olds still live at home
Care leavers at 16 or 18
Children in residential care currently do not have an equivalent legal entitlement to Staying Put and can be forced out of their children’s home far too early. DfE continues to pilot Staying Close, as an alternative for children in residential care. It is welcome that the Government has committed £6m to roll this out further but for many this will remain out of reach. It is important that children are not forced to leave their children’s homes before they are 18 into semi-independent accommodation if this is not right for them.
The locally determined nature of the care leaver offer means that other types of support, such as access to housing differ significantly depending on the local authority. This is made yet more complex by the two tier system of government in many areas of the country that sees county councils responsible for social care and separate district, borough or city councils responsible for housing. The disjointed and unequal nature of this support means some children will leave care with stable housing and for others it’s a much more precarious picture.
The legal definition required to achieve support (being in care for at least 13 weeks including their 16th birthday) is arbitrary: a child who may have argued with their family and needs some time away from them, or a child who is remanded but has a supportive family network, could be entitled to more than a child who has spent the majority of their life in care but returns home before there 16th birthday. Care leavers who are looked after from 15 until 18 but then return home for a period will not be able to get additional support.
We hear that even access to statutory entitlements can be patchy – for example we have heard from young people who want to stay with their foster carer under Staying Put but have not been able to and it has been highlighted to the review that local authorities set their own criteria for eligibility for Staying Put which can lead to differential access
Care experience carries stigma and can weaken identity
Potential life long effect
Face ignorance and prejudice
whether care experience should be more formally recognised, for instance as a protected characteristic
access to records – identity and accuracy
If we were creating care today that was good enough for all our children what would it look like?
- How can care help to build loving lifelong relationships as the norm?
- What changes do we need to make to ensure we have the right homes in the right places with the right support? What role should residential and secure homes have in the future?
Chapter five: System factors
Children’s social care is under significant financial pressure and urgent action is needed
The increased spending pressures are driven, in large part, by increased pressures at the most acute end of the system (???)
Despite the rising numbers of children needing support, since 2012/13 total spending on children’s services has increased by 5% in real terms. This equates to a 1% real terms decrease in spending per child under 1 in England, in stark contrast with the increase in demand (Department for Education, 2021b)2
The total spending figures mask even greater pressures on funding for preventative interventions. Although spending on statutory children’s social care has increased by 26% in real terms since 2012/1328, this has been outweighed by reductions in spending on non-statutory children’s services which saw a 35% real terms decrease over the same period (Department for Education, 2021b)
This increased spending has come at the same time that local authority budgets have been highly constrained. The National Audit Office has found that whilst overall local authority spending power increased slightly in 2020/21, it remains more than 25% lower in real terms than in 2010/11 (National Audit Office & Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government, 2021). This has led to funding of non-statutory children’s services being squeezed, with spend decreasing by 35% in real terms between 2013-2020 (Department for Education, 2021b). In 2020, nearly 65% of local authorities characterised their services as ‘fulfil[ling] our statutory obligations but nothing else’ or ‘provid[ing] a little bit more than our statutory obligations’ (LGiU & MJ, 2020)
Whatever the drivers of spend, it is clear that breaking the current cycle of acute spending will take additional investment over the medium-term in family help services. Local authority children’s services overspent by over £800m in 2019/20, just to meet the most pressing needs of children and families (ADCS, 2021). Throughout the system there are opportunities for things to both work better as well as cost less – avoiding parents having repeat removals, taking fewer children into care by supporting families where possible, making better use of kinship arrangements, avoiding children entering costly residential and secure placements, curbing profit and reducing the number of agency social workers. What it will cost to achieve this and the benefits of this will be a focus for the review in its next phase. What is clear is that without action on both investment and reform, particularly on family help, we will see these costs continue to spiral.
When we consider the case for investment, it is important we do not only focus on the cost of services, but also the longer term cost of later life outcomes of children – ltd data (???)
There is insufficient national coordination and accountability is confused
Policy responsibility for services supporting children and young people is split across several government departments: DfE; MHCLG; DHSC; MOJ; Home Office; Treasury; DWP; HM Revenue and Customs; Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This has led to uncoordinated policy initiatives that see children and families through the lens of individual challenges they are experiencing.
link departmental data sets such as Child in Need and youth offending data, and ADR UK’s ECHILD programme which brings together health, education and social care data.
address the root causes of the pressures facing children’s social care. For example, policy initiatives to reduce the numbers of children in secure health and justice settings are welcome, but have been implemented without sufficient consideration for the additional demand this creates for welfare placements for children who might previously have lived in health or justice settings (ADCS, 2021).
Multi-agency arrangements don’t take a multidisciplinary approach to working with children and families
The system is complicated, bureaucratic and risk averse
Social work is at its best when staff have the freedom, responsibility and time to tailor their practice to the needs of the children and families they are working with… Similarly local trials of new models of social work have led to some local examples of more effective practice, such as some of the programmes identified in this report. However, too often reform initiatives over the past decade have had limited impact in the face of institutional inertia and bureaucracy, or have been too small-scale to substantively transform practice across the country. (!!!???)
too often bureaucratic process-driven practice means social workers don’t have the freedom to follow their judgement of what is in the best interests of children and families.
social workers themselves feel frustrated by the lack of time to work with children and families.
Many local authorities have disempowering and complicated processes to make decisions and allocate resources. At a time of financial pressures and high workloads for frontline staff, this inefficient use of time and people does not support the most expert practitioners to make the difference for children and families that they joined the profession to deliver.
There is more to do to recruit, retain and support a high quality workforce page 78 – 80
We are good at describing the challenges in the system but progress improving the system has been slow
Hypothesis of this review is that the reason recent top-down and bottom-up strategies have not improved the system is that they have failed to address the big and fundamental tensions in the system and suggest that more systemic change is needed.
How can we strengthen multi-agency join up both locally and nationally, without losing accountability?
How do we free up social workers to spend more time in direct practice with children and families and reduce risk aversion?
How can monitoring and inspection make the most difference to children’s and families’ experiences and engender greater freedom and responsibility in the workforce?
What will need to be different about this review’s recommendations compared to previous reviews so that they create a tipping point for improvement?