New £200 million strategy to improve social care system announced
The Department for Education (DfE) has published a new strategy aiming to transform the current care system to focus on more early support for families, reducing the need for crisis response at a later stage.
The strategy, which is backed by £200 million over the next two years, is called ‘Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy’. The government said that with this plan, vulnerable children will be better supported to stay with their families in safe and loving homes.
The plan responds to recommendations made by three independent reviews by Josh MacAlister, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel into the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The findings revealed the current care system is often fragmented, siloed, and struggling to meet the needs of children and families across England.
Families will receive local early help and intervention with challenges such as addiction, domestic abuse or mental health, to help families to stay together where possible and overcome adversity.
This will start in 12 local authorities and is backed by £45 million to embed a best practice model that will then be shared more widely.
Children who grow up in loving, stable homes tend to have better outcomes. The DfE said this is why proposals put relationships at the heart of the care system and prioritise family-like placements where a child can no longer live with their parents.
Kinship care, where a child is placed with a relative or close family friend, will be prioritised by simplifying the process and providing more support to extended families, such as grandparents, aunties, uncles and others.
The government said it will also provide training and support to kinship carers as recognising the transition within a family can be challenging for all involved.
Foster carers will also see an above-inflation increase in their allowance to help cover the increasing costs of caring for a child in their home, in recognition of the care they provide to children.
This is alongside £25 million over the next two years in a recruitment and retention programme.
Depending on local need, foster care recruitment will focus on areas where there is a particular shortage of placements for children such as sibling groups, teenagers, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), those that have suffered complex trauma or parent and child foster homes.
Minister for children, families and wellbeing, Claire Coutinho, said: “Children in care deserve the same love and stability as everyone else. Yet we’ve seen from the two tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson that more needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable children.
“Our wide-ranging reforms will put strong relationships at the heart of the care system. From supporting our brilliant foster carers, kinship carers and social workers to getting early help to families and improving children’s homes, we want every child to get the support and protection they need.”
Measures announced by the government to reform the system include:
- Introducing more effective, joined-up family help for those that are struggling – Up to 12 local areas will get over £45m to test a new approach to family help to provide increased, evidence-based support for families to overcome issues to prevent problems from escalating.
The government said that in a welcoming and non-judgemental way, the new service will help families with issues such as domestic abuse or poor mental health, giving them access to local support with the focus on the help they need rather than bureaucratic boundaries and assessments between services and professionals.
- Where a child is at risk of harm, experts will intervene swiftly and decisively to protect them – A new Child Protection Lead Practitioner role will have advanced, specialist training, and will work in a fully joined up way with other services such as the police, to better identify and respond to significant harm.
The change will mean services work more effectively to protect children from harms that happen outside of the home, such as criminal exploitation and serious violence.
- Harnessing the value of family networks by supporting the kinship care system – There will be a focus on improved support and reducing barriers to kinship care, including investing £9 million in a kinship care training and support offer for all kinship carers.
The government said they will explore the case for a new financial allowance, possible additional workplace entitlements and options for an extension of legal aid for kinship carers who become special guardians or who hold child arrangement orders.
- Transforming the experiences of children in care and care leavers – The government said they will do this by prioritising children in care living in homes close to their family, friends, communities and schools.
In addition to the recruitment programme and the above inflation increase to allowances, the government is investing £30m in family finding, befriending and mentoring programmes to support children in care and care leavers to find and maintain loving relationships.
The government will also increase the leaving care allowance from £2,000 to £3,000 from April this year, an above inflation increase to help them set up home independently. For care leavers undertaking apprenticeships, there will be an increase to the bursary available from £1000 to £3,000.
- Expanding and strengthening the children’s social care workforce – Local authorities will be supported to recruit up to 500 new child and family social worker apprentices and there will be consultation on proposals to reduce over-reliance on agency social workers.
The government will also introduce a new Early Career Framework for social workers that will make sure that social workers have the knowledge and skills they need to support and protect children.
- Setting clearer direction for everyone who works in the system – The government said this will be through a new ‘Children’s Social Care National Framework and Dashboard’.
- The National Framework, published for consultation, sets out clear outcomes that should be achieved across all local authorities to improve the lives of children and families, raising the quality of practice across the country.
The government said it has now reached its target to reduce the number of children’s social care services judged to be ‘Inadequate’ to 10% or lower.
This collective effort from the government and the children’s social care sector has halved failure rates across the country within five years, bringing improved standards for thousands of children and families across the country.
The government said the strategy builds on this work, to support more children within the care system.
Dame Rachel De Souza is the children’s commissioner for England.
She said: “Every child who interacts with the social care system deserves safety, love and security. I’m pleased to see this strategy’s focus on strong, caring relationships for these children, on improving outcomes rather than processes, on better data collection and sharing, and – crucially – a recognition of the scale of the challenge to create enough safe and appropriate placements.
“There must also be a relentless drive for improvement in the system. We should be striving for excellence, as we have done with schools, to get children’s social care in every area of the country rated good or outstanding. Failure in this area means children are unsafe, so we cannot lose sight of this goal.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity for reform that will require hard work to become a reality.
“When it comes to children involved with social care, or those with disabilities, mental health needs or involved with youth justice, I remain impatient for more urgency and ambition – just as we would have for our own children.”