Care Crisis Review published
Sector led review into care crisis concludes that families do not get enough help to prevent problems escalating
Published on 15th June 2018
Children and families do not get the direct help they need early enough to prevent difficulties escalating, the Care Crisis Review has concluded.
The Family Rights Group have facilitated a seven month sector-led review into the care crisis after applications for care proceedings in England and Wales reached record levels in 2017. An inclusive listening exercise with over 2,000 people across England and Wales ensued, complemented by an academic review of evidence about the factors contributing to the crisis, and a separate examination of evidence about options for change.
The review confirmed the sense of crisis that is now felt by many young people, families and those working within the system.
“Many professionals described the frustration they feel at working in a sector that is overstretched and overwhelmed and in which, too often, children and families do not get the direct help they need early enough to prevent difficulties escalating,” said the report. “There was a palpable sense of unease about how lack of resources, poverty and deprivation are making it harder for families and the system to cope.
“Many contributors to the review also expressed a strong sense of concern that a culture of blame, shame and fear has permeated the system, affecting those working in it as well as the children and families reliant upon it. It was suggested that this had led to an environment that is increasingly mistrusting and risk averse and prompts individuals to seek refuge in procedural responses,” it added.
In England and Wales, the number of care order applications reached record level in 2017 and the number of looked after children was at its highest since the Children Act 1989. The number of children in care has been rising steadily since the early 1990s, except for a period in England in the mid-2000s.
The review found that there are many overlapping factors contributing to the rise in care proceedings and number of children in care and the complex picture means that there is no single solution. The Review did, however, find plenty of common agreement about the way forward.
- There was consensus that relationship building has been and is at the heart of good practice.
- There is currently a significant untapped resource that exists for some children in and on the edge of care, namely, their wider family and community.
- Greater focus on exploring and supporting this resource could safely avert more children needing to come into care or could help them thrive in the care system.
The review sets out 20 options for change. These include immediate steps that could be taken to move away from an undue focus on processes and performance indicators, to one where practitioners are able to stay focused on securing the right outcomes for each child. The importance of shared visions and ethos across agencies, with leaders giving a consistent message, including modelling the way they want others to act, was also emphasised.
The options for change highlight the ways in which statutory guidance, such as Working Together to Safeguard Children, can be changed in order to promote relationship-based practice. Family group conferences, in which families are supported to understand professionals’ concerns and to draw upon their own strengths and networks to make safe plans for their child, safely averting the need for some to enter the care system were promoted.
Other options for change include proposals for the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education to examine the impact of benefit rules and policies, and the projected effect of planned benefit reforms, on the numbers of children entering or remaining in care. It calls on the Ministry of Justice to undertake an impact assessment of the present lack of accessible, early, free, independent advice and information for parents and wider family members on the number of children subject to care proceedings or entering or remaining in the care system, and the net cost to the public purse.
The government should also make up the £2bn shortfall in children’s services outlined by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association.
“The review has achieved its aim of developing a greater understanding across the sector about the factors contributing to the crisis and of involving a wide range of those involved in the system in identifying and developing options for change. The next stage is much more important. For all of us to own the problem, reflect on messages from the review, and consider the commitments we can make to safely tackle the crisis and improve the experiences of children, families and practitioners,” it concluded.
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “With councils currently supporting record numbers of children through the care system, this report is a timely contribution to the debate around how best to meet the needs of children and families before they reach crisis point.
“We are pleased that the review backs our call for the Government to plug the funding gap facing children’s services which will reach almost £2 billion by 2020. The report also recognises the importance of government departments fully considering how policies on issues such as welfare reform will impact on children and families. The LGA has previously called for the introduction of a children and young people impact assessment for public bodies to use alongside existing equalities impact assessments, to ensure that the needs of children are properly considered in all policy and legislative changes.
“The crisis facing children’s services goes beyond providing vital support to a record number of children in care. In addition, councils are also now starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day on average, and have a child referred to them every 49 seconds on a daily basis.
“The care that children and young people receive can be a positive life-changing experience and set them on the path of a thriving and prosperous future. The Government urgently needs to commit to fully funding these services so that councils can manage the rising demand for help, while also providing the additional resources they need to support families before problems escalate to the point where a child might need to come into care,” he added.
Stuart Gallimore, ADCS President, said: “Care is transformative for some children and is essential to keeping them safe from harm. The number of children in care has steadily increased for almost a decade, placing the care and court systems under significant pressure because sufficient funding has not been provided. There is no right answer to the question of how many children we should have in care, instead, our focus should be on whether we have the right children in care and how we can support children and families to stay together safely. Many local authorities are using their increasingly limited resources to do this, including by prioritising funds on edge of care services and working with families to prevent family breakdown, but, this is no easy task in the current financial climate.
“Since 2010, funding for local authorities has been halved despite significantly increased demand for services. This has seriously reduced the range and reach of services we are able to provide to children and their families and our ability to improve their outcomes. The report helpfully supports our call for government to plug the funding gap in children’s services, expected to be at least £2billion by 2020, and echoes our call for an impact assessment which considers how government policy effects children and young people. We need to embed long term change into the system aimed at preventing the need for children to come into care in the first place which can only come from a sustainable, long term approach to offering help and support earlier,” he added.
BASW England Manager, Maris Stratulis, says “Social workers want to work do a good job and develop appropriate relationships with children and families, one of the core messages from the report is that there needs to be more focus on relationship-based practice – children, families, practitioners and research is telling us that needs to happen, we must listen to the voices that count. BASW England has been strongly advocating for a national focus on relationship based social work and launched the 80/20 campaign in collaboration with the Office of the Children's Commissioner.”
“We are currently working with partners to explore innovative ways to reduce the amount of time social workers spend on red tape bureaucratic processes and administration and re-focus on investing in relationship based social work. Effective high quality social work is only viable if employers create a conducive work environment, manageable caseloads, regular good quality reflective supervision, investment in continuous professional development underpinned by leadership that creates a culture of meaningful partnership with staff, children, families and partnership organisations,” she added.
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