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We welcome the scope and ambitions of the Department for Education Review of Children's Social Care

We broadly welcome the scope and ambitions of the Department for Education’s (DfE) Independent Review of Children’s Social Care launched on 15 January 2021.

The review aims to identify how services can help more children to remain safely at home and how outcomes for children in care can be improved. The starter for ten hypothesis is that services are not currently up to scratch or only patchily effective, which may prove a challenging pill for some local authorities to swallow, particularly those who have been more innovative or who have had to make significant savings in recent years. However, the review announcement does also recognise some of the broader push and pull factors within the whole system that may affect outcomes and that may be ‘in scope’ including:

  • The overall funding model for children’s social care.
  • Ongoing challenges relating to the recruitment and retention of sufficient experienced social workers.
  • The complex network of agencies and services that are required to affect positive outcomes and that may currently be distracted by other priorities.

Key existing sources of ‘good practice’ information are likely to come from the DfE’s own Innovation Programme and What Works Centre.

The review leader, Josh McAlister, has instigated a ‘call for advice’ from people working in the Sector with reference to the review’s proposed scope and methods.

Whilst any attempt to identify sustainable collective solutions to these thorny issues for children’s social care is likely to gain a universal if cautious welcome from the Sector, there are likely also to be major challenges for this review in finding universally applicable solutions including:

  • How to generate consensus about what constitutes a ‘good enough’ bar for looked after children’s supports and outcomes, given their often disrupted or traumatic early family life and educational experiences. For example, whilst for many years, we have been generally bemoaning the lack of educational achievement of care experienced young people, a number of more recent research studies have identified relatively positive outcomes for these young people compared with others who have similar adverse childhood experiences but who did not become looked after.
  • Making the case for transformational change at a time of significant reductions in public services funding and general economic austerity. For example, we are hearing currently of planned swingeing cuts to services for vulnerable groups, particularly for young people in transition to adulthood. Whilst learning from the Innovation and Partners in Practice Programmes offer real insights, these examples of transformational change were all achieved using significant additional investment.
  • How to address the significant current problems of recruitment and retention in the children’s social care workforce. Put bluntly, how can you ask such services to bring about transformational change when they are struggling just to allocate workers to children and have to put families through numerous changes in allocated workers because of high turnover?
  • How not only to identify ‘best practice’ but to implement it well and in different locality areas? What can we learn from other successful transformations?
  • How to persuade the full range of services required to support children in need and children looked after either to lower their thresholds or to develop new services capable of working specifically with children who have experienced trauma and who may have attachment issues. Children’s social care currently has all of the responsibility but none of the control over such resources, most significantly child and adolescent mental health services.

We will of course be contributing to the call for advice and any later call for evidence based on our extensive work in this field.

Professor Katy Burch, Assistant Director
Professor Katy Burch, Assistant Director

For further information, contact Katy Burch

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