Children’s Commissioner
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Children’s Social Care Reform

Keeping children safe is the most important thing any society can do, and my responsibility towards children in care and those with a social worker is the one I hold most dear. The children’s social care system is one of the most important mechanisms the country has for keeping children safe, and there is urgent need for reform. The Department for Education set out its plans for reforming children’s social care in its Stable Homes, Built on Love consultation.

In my time as Children’s Commissioner, I have met with and consulted children involved with every part of the children’s social care system, I heard from 5,900 children in care and 13,000 children with a social worker in my Big Ask survey, and established my own Care Experienced Advisory Board. It is clear to me that while these children often speak highly of individuals working within the system, they have too often been let down by the system as a whole.  I have seen that too often the basics that we should expect for any child – that they can live in a safe and loving home, with their siblings, with someone to advocate on their behalf – are not in place.

Too many children – nearly half – are living in areas where children’s social care is rated ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’. We must not suffer the bigotry of low aspiration. We can’t reliably say whether the system is achieving the outcomes we want for children; children fall through the gaps between services because the data and technology is not up to scratch; reform programmes often only touch on one element of a child’s life without seeing them as a whole – that mental health, education, disability, and social care need to work alongside each other.

That is why a national strategy for children’s social care needs to be as ambitious as we are for our own children.  Children with social workers and in care have the same right to a loving home, a great education, and a brilliant future as all other children, but too often those ambitions are not realised. Too many still grow up in institutions. We focus on minimum standards not ambitious expectations. Sadly, that is not just what I believe to be true, but also what children tell me themselves. Every child in care needs a loving home, where they receive care, until the age of 18 at least. We need to focus on needs not on arbitrary cliff edges and thresholds.

We do not always have the right information to tell us what services are received by which children, whether and how children are helped by the services they receive, or if they achieve their goals; sometimes it is not even clear what those goals are or should be. We need everyone to be the corporate parent, and truly do as we would for our own children.

Across the country brilliant social workers, family support workers, teachers, health visitors, mental health practitioners, residential care workers, foster carers, kinship carers and so many more are doing everything they can to help some of the most vulnerable children in the country. I want to pay testament to that work, but it is now time for everyone working with and for children to match that ambition.

Since the early 2000s we have seen a transformation in schools. Outcomes have been radically improving. It has revolutionised education for millions of children. But if we now do not focus on the services around schools, supporting the most vulnerable children, those who are not in school and those with additional needs, we risk hitting a glass ceiling on attainment and outcomes. Without an effective social care system, not only will children be at greater risk of suffering harm, or living unhappier lives than they should, but the ambitions for children’s education will also not be met. Schools can do a great deal, but they can’t do everything. There is one institution more powerful and more transformative than a school, and that is the family. It is the job of children’s social care to support families, so that they in turn can support the children within them to thrive. Where a child cannot live with their birth family, we must provide a loving, familial alternative.

That is why a strategy is welcome. And there is much good sense in these plans – a focus on stability, love and putting children at the heart of the system. But for it to succeed what is needed is a commitment to give it the energy and attention it deserves, and a clear plan for how they will put reform into practice. I sit on the National Implementation Board for this strategy so will continue to advocate for reform to happen at pace and with the necessary resource. I will also continue to conduct my own research – on older children experiencing homelessness, on the provision of advocacy – in areas where more thinking is needed.

I set out my views on the strategy consultation in more detail here. It includes the need for:

  • A fully resourced strategy for nationwide improvement, so that every area is good or outstanding
  • Improved cross-Government working
  • A Children Act that works for today
  • A clear and cohesive alignment between the Children’s Social Care Framework and SEND and Alternative Provision National Standards.

My response to the children’s social care outcomes framework is here. It sets out the need for:

  • Long-term outcomes, not just process metrics
  • Alignment with other outcomes frameworks
  • More ambition on not just preventing harm, but improving welfare

I have also set out my response to the consultation on the Working Together to Safeguard Children, which sets out how I want to see:

  • Greater resource and support for the involvement of education as a safeguarding partner
  • An increased focus on attendance, including making guidance on Working Together to Improve Attendance Statutory
  • Measures to ensure the move to Family Help does not lower standards

If you are a child in care, or someone working with a child in care, and are struggling to get the right support please contact my Help at Hand team who can offer advice and assistance.


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