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UK must move from crisis response to family support, says child-care review

23 May 2022

iStock

AN EMPHASIS on loving family relationships is the first step towards a “radical reset” of the child social-care system, which is failing children in its current form, an independent review has concluded.

In his final report, published on Monday, the chair of the independent review of children’s social care, Josh MacAlister, writes: “What we have currently is a system increasingly skewed to crisis intervention, with outcomes for children that continue to be unacceptably poor and costs that continue to rise. For these reasons, a radical reset is now unavoidable.”

This would include replacing “targeted early help” with family help — a network of trusted family-support workers, domestic-abuse workers, and mental-health practitioners within the community, who would work with social workers to provide and cut down on referrals. A temporary £2 billion was needed to target 500,000 children over the next five years, the review says, which, by 2030, would balance out to £1 billion a year.

On child protection, Mr MacAlister recommends the introduction of Expert Child Protection Practitioners (trained social workers) to work with the family-help team; clearer communication between child-protection professions, including paediatricians and police, about expectations; a Child Community Safety Plan to prevent non-domestic abuses (such as drug-running “county lines”); and parent support and representation within the family courts.

The professional development of social workers “should be vastly improved” through training and development linked to national pay scales, the review recommends. And family carers such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings should be recognised in decision making through a local-authority funded Family Network Plan, rather than through foster-care funding.

All these changes should be based on promoting healthy, loving relationships, alongside a quality education, decent home, fulfilling work, and good health. “Rather than drawing on and supporting family and community, the system too often tries to replace organic bonds and relationships with professionals and services.”

This whole system reform would require £2.6 billion of new spending over four years: £46 million in year one, £987 million in year two, £1.257 billion in year three, and £233 million in the final year. If these recommendations are not implemented, Mr MacAlister warns that, within ten years, 100,000 children will be in care (up from 80,000 today) at a cost of more than £15 billion per year (up from £10 billion now).

The review, which is based on evidence from more than 4000 people who have experienced or worked in the current system, was welcomed by the Children’s Society. Its chief executive, Mark Russell, said: “Its recommendations are bold, ambitious, and comprehensive, and there is much to welcome, especially the emphasis on boosting early help to prevent children reaching crisis point. Proposals for a better targeted response for teenagers at risk of abuse and exploitation by predators outside their families are also very welcome.”

He added: “Implementing the recommendations will take political will across government departments and significant funding, and the investment proposed by the review is likely to be the minimum needed to bring about the radical change required.”

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