Plea for equality law to protect children in care

23rd May, 2022 7:50 am

Children in care should receive protection under the Equality Act in the same way as race and sexuality to tackle the stigma and discrimination they face in life, a landmark review recommends.

The once-in-a-generation children’s social care review, published today, calls on the UK to be the first in the world to make care experience a protected characteristic, and to do so under the 2010 act.

Josh MacAlister, who led the independent study, said in an interview with The Times that this would send a “powerful message” and called on the government to be brave with legislation. The review, which includes more than 80 recommendations, also suggests a windfall tax on the 15 largest private children’s homes and fostering providers to claw back hundreds of millions of pounds.

MacAlister said: “This should be the civil rights issue of our time. The extent of discrimination and the extent of disadvantage faced by those who’ve been in care . . . there are hundreds of thousands of people who’ve got that experience in England.

“We know so little about what their life is like. What we do know is that they face huge, huge disadvantages.

“Protected characteristics for care experience would shift social attitudes and focus organisations and government on outcomes for that community.

“It sends a very powerful message to society that this is a group that we need to have special consideration for.”

MacAlister, 35, a former teacher who came out as gay at 15, sees similarities with the way the previous government policy helped to reshape attitudes to sexual orientation.

He encouraged Boris Johnson’s government to trigger a “big change” by adding those with care experience to the Equality Act.

“That change allowed society to change its attitudes and allowed us to make progress. The nine other protected characteristics in law at the moment allow organisations to take positive action.”

Projections in the review claim that by 2032 there could be approaching 100,000 children in care costing £15 billion per year, compared with 80,000 costing £10 billion per year now. It also calculated that the lifetime costs of adverse outcomes of children’s social care is £23 billion each year.

To counter that, the review recommends an injection of £2.6 billion to enable 30,000 more children to live with their families by 2032. It also wants £253 million for the professional development of social workers.

MacAlister said a windfall tax would help to recoup some of the profits made by companies that take advantage of a “dysfunctional market”. His comments come two months after the Competition and Markets Authority said the largest private suppliers of children’s homes and foster care places in the UK make excessive profits.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said he would set out plans for “bold and ambitious change”. He added: “This report will be central in taking forward our ambition to ensure every child has a loving and stable home and we will continue working with experts and people who have experienced care to deliver change on the ground.”

Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, said it was time to “grasp this unique moment to deliver ambitious reform, designed around children and families”.

Sir Peter Wanless, the NSPCC chief executive, added: “This is an ambitious, essential and achievable plan to fix a children’s social care system that is under increasing strain and in need of urgent reform and investment.”

Key recommendations

• Make experience of being in care a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

• Levy a windfall tax on profits made by the largest providers.

• A new family help service based in community settings.

• Expert child protection practitioners should work in every case where there are concerns about the serious harm of a child.

• A new lifelong guardianship order should be created.

• The Department for Education should launch a national recruitment drive to bring in 9,000 foster carers over three years.

• £253 million for the professional development of social workers.

• A new set of care standards.

• “Frictionless” sharing of information between local authority and partner systems.



SourceThe Times

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