Children’s social care system needs ‘radical reset’ to stop the ‘cycle of escalating problems’ – review

The children’s social care system needs a “radical reset” to stop the “cycle of escalating problems”, the leader of a review into the sector has warned.

Josh MacAlister, a former teacher who led the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, is calling for a “five-year comprehensive ambitious reform and investment programme” to improve the lives of children in care and their families.

The review has made more than 80 recommendations, including calls to rebalance resources “to back those who care for and love children”.

Mr MacAlister (pictured) told the PA news agency that the review was launched because of “widespread recognition” that outcomes for children in care and families who face lots of challenges are “far too poor” and that without change “costs will rise”.

He said: “What we found is that this is a system – the children’s social care system – that needs a radical reset because, at the moment, it is in a cycle where problems escalate, costs rise, outcomes continue to be too poor and that’s getting worse and worse over time.

“What we need to do is to tilt the system firmly back to supporting the adults, the carers, the parents, the families who love their children.”

Mr MacAlister said those working on the review, which began in March 2021, started by listening to people who have first-hand experience of the system, including children in care, young adults who were in care, grandparents, foster carers and parents.

He said: “What’s been hopeful about the review process is meeting thousands of people who are working in the system who are desperate to see change happen, and examples right the way across the country of people doing things differently for children and families.

“What we’re trying to do through the review is mainstream those ideas, bring them into the centre stage.

“Lots of the solutions to the problems we see are bottom-up – the report is filled to the brim with great examples of things that are being done.

“The problem is they’re being done despite the system – not because of it.”

Mr MacAlister also said costs can be saved in the long run if the Government invests in change now.

He said when children grow up without lifelong loving connections and when families are not supported, the social costs later down the line are “enormous”.

“It’s why we’re calling for a five-year comprehensive ambitious reform and investment programme so that we can set this system up to succeed for the hundreds of thousands of children and families who need it,” he said.

The review has calculated the costs of adverse outcomes for the social care system as £23 billion a year and is suggesting an investment of £2.6 billion over the next five years to reform the system and “reduce long-term costs”, Mr MacAlister said.

“The option for the Government is simple either carry on as we are limping forward, into 2032, where we’ve got nearly 100,000 children in care, with costs of £15 billion a year, up from about £10 billion at the moment, or invest really smartly now in an ambitious programme of change so that we can improve outcomes and make the system more sustainable,” he added.

Mr MacAlister said “it’s too soon” to tell if the Government will take on the recommendations or provide the funding.

But he added: “The argument is really clearly put, which is that if the Government don’t invest, if the Government don’t pursue a big change programme, we will end up in a more costly situation in the years ahead, and outcomes will be significantly worse.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the Government is ready to meet the challenge and will publish plans for “bold and ambitious change” in the coming months.

Responding to the review, the Government did not immediately commit to most of the recommendations but said they would be considered in the longer term.

Key recommendations from Josh MacAlister’s review into children’s social care

A landmark review into children’s social care has made more than 80 recommendations to improve outcomes for children and their families in England. Here are some of the key calls for action made by review chairman Josh MacAlister and his team.

  • The Government should levy a windfall tax on profits made by the largest private children’s home providers and independent fostering agencies
  • A new family help service based in community settings, such as schools, should be introduced to support families struggling with problems like domestic abuse and poor mental health
  • “Expert child protection practitioners” – experienced social workers – should work with family teams in every case where there are concerns about the serious harm of a child
  • The Government should make someone’s experience of being in care a protected characteristic
  • A new lifelong guardianship order should be created, allowing a care-experienced person and an adult who loves them to form a lifelong legal bond
  • The Department for Education should launch a national recruitment drive to bring in 9,000 new foster carers over three years
  • Some £253 million should be invested for the professional development of social workers over four years
  • A new set of care standards to ensure children in care receive care up to their 18th birthday and improve quality in children’s homes
  • The Government should aim to achieve “frictionless” sharing of information between local authority and partner systems, and between different local authorities, by 2027
  • All local authorities should make a financial allowance – at the same rate as their fostering allowance – available for special guardians and kinship carers with a child arrangement order (CAO) looking after children who would otherwise be in care
  • All new special guardians and kinship carers with a CAO should be given kinship leave, which matches that given to adopters
  • Contact arrangements between birth parents, adopted children and adoptive parents should be assumed by default and modernised
  • Ofsted should be given new powers to oversee and intervene in the children’s social care market
  • Schools should be made a statutory safeguarding partner

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