Update on government plans for improving the care system
In February 2023, the Department for Education (DfE) published its consultation, Stable Homes Built on Love, seeking views on their ideas for reform of the children's social care system. You can read our full response here.
Recently, the DfE has published its response to the consultation, including how it listened to stakeholders in its proposed changes to the children’s social care system. You can read the government’s response here.
This blog looks at what is set to change and to what extent our suggestions for policy improvement were heard by the government.
No immediate legislative changes
The first thing to note is that the government is not bringing forward any immediate legislative change following the consultation.
We recommended the full incorporation of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law to raise the profile of children’s rights in the UK and promote their voice in decision-making processes. However, the government did not mention the UNCRC in their response, suggesting that this is still out of reach for now.
We also asked the government to amend the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 to promote care leavers having priority status in housing. Some progress on this is likely, as the DfE will be taking forward legislative reform to remove the local connection requirement for care leavers seeking to access social housing but a timeline has not yet been specified.
Josh MacAlister, the Chair of the Review of Children’s Social Care, suggested a £2.6 bn investment over five years to stabilise the current system and kickstart his programme of reform.
However, with the government currently spending more than £10 billion every year on maintaining the system we already have, we were among many organisations who highlighted that this would likely be insufficient.
‘This is a conservative estimate considering the need that lay before us."
- Ian Mearns Labour MP (House of Commons, 2023)
Despite this, the government decided to stick to the £200m investment it had promised over the reform’s first phase (2 years). This figure represents less than 1% of the total budget that the government allocates to children’s social care every year despite promises to enact some of the large-scale reforms suggested by the Review.
The government did not respond to our ask about focusing on mitigating the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on those who are most vulnerable or consider the impact of raising universal credit income to lower relative child poverty rates.
The government increased the amount available for the care leavers’ allowance from £2,000 to £3,000 and is boosting the care leavers’ apprenticeship bursary from £1,000 to £3,000. These are positive steps, but the cash injection does not go far enough to level the playing field between care leavers and their peers - many of whom continue to be supported by their parents far into adulthood.
We asked for a national commitment to stop children being placed miles from home when it is not in their best interests, and for young people who have lived in residential care to routinely have the option to ‘Stay Close’ and maintain connections with their former home until at least age 25
Over the next 18 months, the government will continue to explore how they can best develop and enhance the currently funded Staying Close programme (residential care), Staying Put (foster care) and work to end rough sleeping.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
Some local authorities have been selected to receive a share of £30 million in over the next three years to trial targeted short breaks support. We know from our work with parents and carers of children with SEND that short breaks offer a lifeline and play a preventative role in children being taken into care. We hope to see the scheme rolled out across more local authorities after the initial three-year trial.
We asked the government to conduct research on how care experience and SEND interact when children are transitioning from school into training, internships or workfor example. This was not covered in their response.
We asked for the introduction of a Caring Homes Improvement Plan, which should outline when the semi-independent standards and inspection regime will be phased out and replaced by the unequivocal entitlement of care for children until age 18.
Interestingly, the government’s response said that:
“During the consultation period, we heard from a wide range of professionals and sector leaders on the importance of ensuring residential care is focused on helping and supporting young people to thrive, and that care regulations reflect this. However, we also heard concerns about standardisation for anything other than the most basic care expectations. We heard that standards of care for residential care need to be broad and flexible, to meet the individual needs of children and young people.”
It remains unclear then whether the new Ofsted inspection and regulation regime is here to stay, and whether children living in semi-independent accommodation will be included in the development of any new care standards for residential care.
We want to see mental health support assessments happening early to minimise the escalation of needs. This was not specifically addressed in the government’s response.
Regional Care Co-operatives (RCCs)
We raised concern through the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers that the RCC model may not be the right one to address issues faced by the children’s social care system. The government plans to develop RCCs on a staged basis. They have recently opened the applications for local authorities to set up RCCs.
We suggested that the government incorporates the commissioning solutions proposed by Children England, but these solutions are still yet to be acknowledged.
Specifically, we asked for the introduction of:
- A Children Act Funding Formula to distribute national taxation to all authorities according to the needs of children in their area, factoring in the additional stresses caused by poverty and disadvantage.
- A Care Bank to bring the financing and procurement of care to a single national body while leaving service commissioning and sufficiency under LA duties (Children England, 2022)
We asked the government to ensure the regular collection of data on children not in education while living in care and facilitate data-sharing arrangements for children in care and care leavers (particularly those with SEND or additional health needs).
Instead, the government stated in general terms that RCCs will establish specialist data capabilities to analyse local authority data across the region to better understand children’s needs and demand across the area.
The National Minimum Allowance for Foster Carers has been raised by 12.43%, and there will soon be an increase in the income tax relief available to foster carers. However, we know that this increase will not benefit all foster carers and is unlikely on its own to improve their retention. Research by Ofsted in 2022 found that one in eight fostering households quit, with the cost of living crisis hitting them particularlg hard.
The government is developing a Foster Care recruitment and retention programme with local authorities in the North East which is something we asked for. However, whether or not the scheme will improve recruitment and retention will depend upon the details, which are not currently publicly available.
We asked the government to provide adequate training and financial help for kinship carers and family members who step up for children to prevent them from entering care.
By the end of 2023, the government will introduce a financial allowance for kinship carers with SGOs and CAOs in every local authority. By 2024, they will launch a national kinship training, information, and advice service.
Corporate parenting responsibilities
We asked for a details of how the government intends to applycorporate parenting principles in practice, asthe government has committed to adaptingprimary legislation to embed an extension of corporate parenting responsibility when parliamentary time allows.
In Autumn 2023, the government will conduct a pre-legislation consultation to agree on implementing corporate parent responsibilities and identify accountability arrangements.
The government’s financial position indicates that children’s social care is not prioritised in their agenda, and there is not the level of investment made which is needed to mitigate the negative impacts of increased rates of child poverty and the cost-of-living crisis, which have a disproportionate impact on children in care.
The DfE is running a consultation which seeks views on national standards and statutory guidance for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services. The consultation's deadline is 18 December, and we plan on responding to it with our suggestions for improvement.