No money, some ambition – our statement on the Government’s response to the Children’s Social Care Review
This month, the government published their plans for reforming children’s social care, Stable Homes, Built on Love.
Touted as a once in a generation opportunity to reset the dial and improve young people’s life chances, the opportunity to improve life for more than 80,000 children in care risks slipping away. It is not that there is no ambition - it is that there is no money.
£200 million is the pot of funding which has been earmarked by the government to deliver its reforms. It is only 8% of what the chair of the Care Review said was necessary to transform the children’s social care system, and significantly less than the sum requested by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services of £4.3 billion annually.
More funding may become available in the future, or it may not. Every proposal in the report is subject to further consultation, piloting, and testing. £200 million to transform a system which is not working is a drop in the ocean, as Rebekah Pierre, a care-experienced author, social worker and activist rightly pointed out in her most recent article for the Guardian.
Over the last ten years the government has invested the same amount solely in the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. How far can this small pot of money stretch in implementing the government’s proposals, many of which are long overdue?
“No child should be entering care because of poverty, yet over the last five years 10,000 children have entered care as a result of it.”
Scattered within the report there are small glimmers of hope:
- increased financial support for foster carers;
- a commitment to a kinship care strategy and training programme
- investment in befriending and mentoring schemes, opt-out advocacy,
- and an extension of the staying close scheme for children living in residential care.
All have the capacity to improve the lives of children in care if they are properly funded and resourced.
Care standards for all children across all settings is something that the government have said they are looking into more closely, and something for which we, alongside Article39 and the Keep Caring to 18 steering group have been tirelessly campaigning. But at the end of their exploration children must have more rights, not fewer.
Positive change in some areas hinges on the realisation of proposals like the extension of corporate parenting duties to public bodies like the NHS, police, and schools. This would mean that these bodies are collectively responsible for the welfare of children in care and care leavers alongside the Council and must consider them in decision-making.
Barring this and a commitment to better workforce training on mental health, there is no specific commitment to supporting the mental health of care experienced people, though research suggests that almost half (45%) of children in care currently have a diagnosable mental health disorder (Anna Freud, 2020). This is a missed opportunity, especially in light of the government’s recent decision to scrap plans for a ten year strategy for mental health.
Furthermore, no child should be entering care because of poverty, yet over the last five years 10,000 children have entered care as a result of it (DL Bennett, 2022). Despite this, the government have not committed to lowering rates of child poverty across England.
Likewise, young people who have been in care should not be impoverished. While increases to the leaving care allowance and care leavers apprenticeship bursary are welcome, they do not go far enough to mitigate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on young people who cannot rely on financial support from family.
Additionally, there were few proposals made in the Care Review to improve the lives of children living in residential care. While there are plans to create ‘approximately 350 new children’s homes places’ by the end of 2025, we are concerned that plans will stay on paper unless steps are taken to retain and recruit a talented care workforce.
“While there are plans to create ‘approximately 350 new children’s homes places’ by the end of 2025, we are concerned that plans will stay on paper unless steps are taken to retain and recruit a talented care workforce.”
The rationale for a move towards regional commissioning and a financial oversight regime is clearly underpinned by the belief that ‘local authorities are paying too much for placements and [the governments view] is that it is not right that Council taxpayers are footing the bill’ (page 102).
As a society we all have a duty to look after children in care. The government makes this case when talking about the extension of corporate parenting principles. Until the quality of children’s care becomes as much of a concern as the cost of their care, we will be failing them.
The proposals do not go “far enough, fast enough,” to quote McAlister, the chair of the Care Review. Instead of a clear strategy which will benefit children in the here and now, parts of the report read more like “we will look into this in a few years’ time.”
We will continue to keep fighting to ensure that the voices of care experienced young people are heard and listened to in the implementation of these proposals.