The Government’s Strategy to reform children’s social care – “Stable Homes, Built on Love has the right approach to tackle the issues with children’s social care, but falls short in delivering the radical reset that is needed.”
The Strategy lacks the scale, ambition, funding and pace to realise any immediate benefit. Most children, families and staff involved with children’s social care will experience little benefit from changes made until several years from now. Moreover, there is no guarantee of any long-term reform. This is the significant conclusion of a report by the House of Lords Public Services Committee published today; “A response to the Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy”. The Government must not waste the opportunity to implement the far-reaching reform required: it must go further, faster, and ensure that all involved see some benefit soon.
The successful implementation of the Strategy is dependent on substantial cross-departmental cooperation and political buy-in. The Committee calls for the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit to galvanise departments and lead on implementation: further reviews should not be allowed to delay progress. Updates should be provided on discussions to ensure that they are not lagging behind. The Minister is asked to make Statements to the House providing action plans and departmental updates.
The report finds that the voices of children and young people are often not heard when decisions are made about their care. The Strategy proposes the use of advocacy services to combat this: but these services must be fully independent and able to hold local authorities to account.
The report highlights ever increasing vacancies in the children and family social care workforce. There is not enough in the Strategy on recruiting additional staff to support those already performing demanding roles in difficult circumstances. Without more ambitious recruitment targets, the objectives of the Government’s reforms will not be achieved.
The Committee heard concerns about the quality of residential care. A severe shortage of placements means that some young people are placed far away from their families. These placements are not universally providing the care children need. With demand high, and supply low, the power is with the providers to charge high prices. By creating Regional Care Cooperatives, the Strategy places responsibility for commissioning regionally, but the case has not been made that this will improve standards or prices. Alternative approaches should be explored. The voices of young people and families will be key when evaluating any proposed approaches.
A severe shortage of foster carers means that local authorities must take what they can get meaning children and young people sometimes being placed in unsuitable settings. Current foster care recruitment programmes are not delivering the number of foster care placements needed, and in some cases are failing to ensure the safety of children in foster care. The Department for Education should provide further detail on its plans to increase foster care recruitment.
Baroness Morris of Yardley, Chair of the Public Services Committee said:
“The children’s care system is in crisis and while the Government’s Strategy is a step in the right direction it falls short of delivering the immediate real time benefits to children and families that we need. The Strategy is a golden opportunity, but it could be wasted.
“Vulnerable young people are being failed by the system. There are shortages of every kind of care, and children are being placed in settings that do not work for them. This is untenable. As one young person we spoke to told us: ‘I am a person not a number’.
“The Government’s plan has much to recommend it, but unless the proposals go further and faster, the Strategy will leave many children behind. While we accept that not every reform can be introduced everywhere immediately, the Government must ensure that all children and families engaged in the care system see some immediate benefit and can be sure that significant improvements and reform will follow.
“We’ve made a number of recommendations which the Government must follow if it wants to implement the fundamental reforms required to deliver an operationally effective system and prevent a worsening of the current crisis”