‘Profits from English children’s care homes indefensible, bosses to be told’

Josh MacAlister, Chair of The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, has released an interim 100 page report ahead of the full review due to conclude in Spring 2022. The media were quick to report on the parts of the review that lambast the independent sector, sparking heated conversation and debate.  Some have criticised the report for being ‘nothing more than a collating together of things already known and being worked on’ (ncercc response to CfC) whilst others have suggested that this is a helpful summing up of current research and practice and there is much to be valued in the report.

The review focused on four main areas: families, child protection, relationships and change.

What does the report say?

We need to do more to help families:

  • more money to improve support for families will help but is not the only answer- there must be a clearer definition of what ‘family help’ is
  • staff doing work with families need to have the right skills to do it well
  • professionals should agree on what help is given to families so that money that is spent, is spent well
  • living in poverty, ethnic background or having parents who have been in care before, can affect the chances of a young person needing a social worker
  • families are investigated a lot but do not always get the help they need
  • most families have a social worker because parents are raising children in adverse conditions and need support

We need a child protection system that keeps children safe through more effective support and decisive action:

  • the way in which risk is assessed and children are kept safe could be improved
  • the system particularly fails teenagers who face harm outside of the home, and more needs to be done to keep them safe
  • stable alternatives to residential child care should be sought where children cannot live with their birthparents, for example kinship and adoption
  • the way in which professionals work; process dominating over direct work with families, means they are not able to provide support to children and families in the way we should
  • we need to be more decisive in providing effective support for families if it is decided they can no longer look after their children

The care system must build not break relationships

  • the state is not a pushy enough parent when it comes to getting access to the support children in care need
  • too often children are moved far from where they have grown up, separated from their brothers or sisters, are forced to move schools, and have a revolving door of social workers- we are failing to build lifelong loving relationships around these children
  • children and young people leaving care are not given enough support or opportunities they need to have the same outcomes as their friends- we also need to do more to combat the stigma attached to care experience and help care experienced adults to understand their identity
  • the secure accommodation, for children who need it, must improve so that it is offered at the right time, and is helpful
  • care can weaken, rather than strengthen important relationships: many care experienced people report having small numbers of people they can trust
  • there are not enough homes in the right places with the right support for children

Change will not happen without addressing the system causes

  • we don’t do enough to understand the collective costs of poor outcomes for children in contact with social care when we think about the case for investment
  • social worker don’t spend enough time with children and their families – one in three social workers do not work directly with children or families and for those who do work directly with children and families, less than 1/3rd of their time is is spent with families
  • police, schools, health, housing and children’s social care should work better together
  • not enough money is being spent on helping families
  • the cost of children’s social care is increasing but things are not improving for children
  • services available to children and families offer help based on their own rules, instead of what children and families need
  • to achieve progress the report suggests more systemic change will be needed, rather than making tweaks ‘or piling more bricks onto an already wobbly and fragile jenga tower’

The evidence base around Residential Child Care (RCC)  is limited and whilst it acknowledges that there is some good RCC out there, it does raise the question of the future of children’s homes in the wider reform of Children’s Social Care. The NCERCC suggest the report is too hesitant in its recognition of the positives of RCC and on the matter of profits it suggests that RCC is ‘a monopsony not a market. The [Local Authorities] determine the functioning of the market, not providers.’ The report omits figures for the profits and spends of Local Authority maintained children’s homes; is the polarising of the independent and local authority sectors potentially more damaging than it is helpful?

Overall the report highlights important issues, albeit many that those already working in social care know and have been discussing for a long time, sets out a clear direction for travel and hopefully opens up the floor for further research and planning that places children and families at the centre. Whether funding will be available to make the vast and far reaching changes the report suggests remains to be seen.

We would be interested to hear your thoughts, why not drop us a line: lucy.reynolds@dialogueltd.co.uk