In its 2019 manifesto the Conservative party committed to review the children’s care system so as to ensure children and young people receive the support they need. In January 2021 a review of social care was announced and the report following that review, conducted by Josh MacAlister, was published earlier this summer.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (the Review) makes recommendations for action to be taken to ensure that the care system places focus on those children and families who need help in advance of their reaching crisis point. Not surprisingly the Review highlights where the care system presently falls short of what should be expected, and it confirms the need for additional funding from the Government. MacAlister has called for £2.6bn over 5 years to help change the system and reduce the number of children going into care
Recommendations from the Review also include:
- New child-protection experts to ensure senior staff are directly involved in frontline decisions;
- A recruitment drive to increase the number of foster parents who can care for children;
- A new law protecting care leavers from discrimination;
- Young offender institutions, described as “wholly unsuitable for children” to be phased out.
The proposals follow the tragic killings of toddlers Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson who died in 2020, the trials of which also commented on the failings of the social-care system which should be there to protect children at risk of harm.
MacAlister told the BBC: “I've walked away from this feeling a mixture of inspiration at times - seeing what families have been able to do and where children have been able to get despite the circumstances - but also rage. Some of the things going on in the system are outrageous and are not acceptable."
Ministers have said that they are committed to making “major reforms to improve the lives of England’s most vulnerable children and families”. Detailed plans for such changed are due to be published.
Meanwhile the Welsh Government has this month launched its own consultation to “eliminate profit from the care of looked-after children” and make changes to health care and safeguarding for vulnerable adults and children. Recent publicity and research has also commented on some private care providers who it is alleged have been making a profit whilst not providing the care they should.
When the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse publishes its final report it too will make recommendations specific to the care sector, drawing on the findings of various of its investigations.
The recommendations from consultations, inquiries and serious case reviews all provide guidance and lessons learned. Public and private providers of care will no doubt seek to act on the recommendations but face significant pressure from the demands on their services and the costs restrictions to provide the same.
Over the past two years the courts have also rolled back the circumstances where civil claims for damages can be made against local authorities in connection with their care of vulnerable individuals. Only time will tell whether the reduced threat of litigation, alongside implementation of the myriad of recommendations, will mean better care provision for those in need.