This briefing outlines key headlines from the review and the initial LGA view on these; the LGA will work closely with its members over the coming months to expand on these views, and work with members and the Government on the implementation of recommendations to improve children’s social care and ultimately, the experiences and outcomes of children, young people and their families.
Overall LGA position
Councils want to do all they can to keep children and young people safe and to help them to thrive. It is positive that this report not only recognises that councils are best placed to do that, but recognises and builds on much of the excellent practice already taking place while offering recommendations to tackle some of our most significant challenges.
This report reflects many issues that councils have been raising for some time – including the need to invest further in early help for children and families, better support for kinship carers and making sure that we have the right homes for children in care, as well as ensuring better futures for those leaving care. The recommendations within the report will require significant funding to deliver and we urge the Government to provide the investment needed to reform services swiftly.
We have concerns around recommendations for Regional Care Cooperatives. While there is a clear argument for working collaboratively to provide specialist placements, and more strategic issues such as market shaping, we are not convinced that RCCs will deliver the changes that we need to see in the care ‘market’. Many councils are already working collaboratively and seeing positive results, yet note that they are still unable to have significant influence over the largest private providers. Furthermore, where possible we believe that local decision-making and strong local relationships are vital as far as possible.
While we welcome many of the recommendations in this report, there are some issues that cannot wait for delivery. In particular, we have significant concerns around placements for children in care who have the most complex needs, placements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and workforce capacity.
We are keen to work with the Government to build and deliver an ambitious plan for implementation that will see longstanding improvements to services, while also tackling those issues that are increasingly risking the ability of councils to support children.
Initial government response
As this is an independent, rather than government, review, the Government has provided an initial response now and will be developing its more detailed response over the coming months, including which recommendations it wishes to take forward.
The Government has outlined an initial response to the Care Review in which the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi MP, said “this is the start of a journey to change the culture and dramatically reform the children’s social care system.” In his oral statement to Parliament, the Minister for Children and Families, Will Quince MP, committed to “an ambitious and detailed Government response and implementation strategy” by the end of 2022.
Minister Quince outlined three priorities to improve children’s social care:
1. The first is to improve the child protection system so that it keeps children safe from harm as effectively as possible.
2. The second is to support families to care for their children, so that they can have safe, loving and happy childhoods which set them up for fulfilling lives.
3. And the third is to ensure that there are the right placements for children in the right places, so that those who cannot stay with their parents grow up in a safe, stable and loving home.
The Government’s initial response committed to:
- Establishing a National Implementation Board of sector experts, people with experience of leading transformational change and with experience of the care system.
- Work with local authorities to boost efforts to recruit more foster carers, including pathfinder local recruitment campaigns and providing more support throughout the foster carer application process
- Reframing and refocusing the support social workers receive in the early part of their careers, particularly to enhance their skills and knowledge in child protection
- Joining up data from across the public sector to increase transparency – both between safeguarding partners and to the wider public (more detail will be set out later this year).
- Establishing a new Digital and Data Solutions Fund to help local authorities improve delivery for children and families through technology
- Developing a national children’s social care framework which will set direction for the system and point everyone to the best available evidence to support families and protect children.
The Government’s response also committed to funding for family hubs, social workers in schools and designated safeguarding lead supervision programmes.
The Review recommends several key elements that are discussed throughout the report:
Relationships Protect programme
- This is described as a “single comprehensive reform programme” which would oversee the reform recommended by the review, with all funding for reform channelled through this programme rather than establishing a range of funding pots and overlapping programmes.
- A subset of recommendations that form part of Relationships Protect represent a ‘critical path of interdependent measures’ to improve outcomes at pace and fall under the following headings:
- A revolution in family help
- Unlocking the potential of family networks
- Homes for children in care
- Realising the potential of the workforce
National Children’s Social Care Framework
- The development of a National Children’s Social Care Framework to set the purpose, objectives and outcomes for children’s social care, alongside practice guides setting out the best evidence for achieving these objectives.
- This would be accompanied by a ‘balanced scorecard of indicators’ for learning and improvement.
Early Career Framework and Expert Practitioners
- Development of an “Early Career Framework” to cover the first five years in the profession, leading to the role of “Expert Practitioner”.
- Only Expert Practitioners would be able to take decisions on child protection cases, which they would co-work with other social workers.
Chapter Two: A revolution in family help
This chapter describes the need for a ‘fundamental shift’ in the way children’s social care responds to families who need help, arguing that identifying risks earlier and preventing problems from needlessly escalating will reduce the need for ‘less dignified and more costly intervention’ later.
The review proposes:
- Combining “early help” and “child in need” support into a single definition of “family help” to end handovers between services and to bring a more flexible approach to a wider group of families
- Eligibility for family help should be set out in a sufficient level of detail nationally to give a more consistent understanding of who should receive family help services, whilst giving enough flexibility to enable professional judgement and empower family help teams to respond flexibly to families’ needs.
- Amending Working Together to Safeguard Children to enable more light touch assessments for family help where appropriate with a focus on ‘conversations’ rather than ‘mechanical referrals’, and to remove timescales for assessments to instead focus on family outcomes. (Where a child is at risk of, or experiencing, significant harm, timescales would still apply).
- Family help should be multidisciplinary, with cases held by a wider workforce supervised by social workers. Government should consider putting multidisciplinary family help teams on a statutory footing.
- Family help should take a population health management approach with teams should be embedded within neighbourhoods and should harness the power of community including considering how wider networks can provide support, and using peer-to-peer support.
- Investment in family help will ultimately improve children’s outcomes and reduce spending later on through keeping more children safely with their families, promoting reunification, ending repeat and intergenerational cycles of care, reducing occurrences of significant harm and countering the impact of deprivation.
- The review calls for investment of £2 billion to implement the proposed transformation in family help, with national government pots of funding integrated into this funding stream and local partners incentivised to contribute. Following the transformation, government should ringfence funding for family help.
- Funding for family help should be conditional on meeting defined outcomes and goals as set out in a National Children’s Social Care Framework.
- Ofsted inspections should reinforce a focus on families receiving high quality, evidence-based help that enables children to thrive and stay safely at home.
- Government should ensure alignment between this review and the SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper during implementation.
- It is recommended that the Law Commission reviews the current ‘patchwork’ of legislation that exists to support disabled children and their families.
- The review also notes the need for further work to consider support for teenagers, addressing poverty in family help and addressing ethnic disparities in children’s social care.
- Councils have long highlighted the challenges in delivering universal and early help services in the context of increasing need and reduced funding, and their significant concerns about the implications of not being able to support children and families early. The review’s emphasis on enabling children, young people and families to access the help they need, when they need it, is very welcome and we urge the Government to work with councils and the wider children’s sector to deliver on this vision.
- When measuring the impact of family help against defined outcomes, it will be important to consider the impact of actions taken by partner organisations including health, schools and the police. Local government should not be held accountable for outcomes in isolation, but rather as part of a system of support for families.
- We welcome calls to invest specifically in the transformation of family help services and for ongoing funding for these services. We also welcome recognition in the report of the need to streamline the multiple funding pots that councils can currently bid into.
- It is vital that proposals set out in the SEND Green paper, as well as the Schools White paper are aligned with and compliment the recommendations set out in the independent review of social care.
Chapter Three: A just and decisive child protection system
This chapter outlines the ways in which the review team believes child protection can be improved, including the use of Expert Child Protection Practitioners for cases where there is a risk of significant harm; clearer expectations on multi-agency capabilities; improving our response to extra-familial harm; improving data sharing and work to improve learning and family experience in the family courts.
The review proposes:
- Introducing an Expert Child Protection Practitioner role – an experienced social worker to co-work child protection cases with family help and who would be responsible for taking key decisions.
- Working Together to Safeguard Children should be amended to set expectations on multi-agency capabilities for child protection (further recommendations on multi-agency working are set out in Chapter Eight)
- Ensuring multi-disciplinary responses to extra familial harms and establishing partnership responses to extra-familial harm as a priority area for learning.
- Introducing a “Child Community Safety Plan”, with the same legal underpinning as a child protection plan, to clarify where primary harm is not attributable to families.
- Government should integrate funding aimed at preventing individual harms into a single local response to extra familial harms, including enabling areas to integrate their Violence Reduction Unit funding and infrastructure into their local response to extra familial harms.
- Subject to a positive evaluation of the pilot to devolve responsibility for the National Referral Mechanism decisions for child victims to local areas, government should roll this out to all areas.
- Government should implement the recommendations of the Taylor Review to simplify the experiences of children in the youth justice system and as a first step, should roll out the flexibility to all local authorities to integrate AssetPlus Assessments with children in need assessments.
- The Government should consider calls for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse ‘with an open mind’.
- Guidance and legislation on information sharing should be strengthened and clarified, and local safeguarding partners should confirm they have information sharing agreements in place and have audited practice in this area.
- Government should set a target to achieve ‘frictionless sharing of information’ between local authority and partner systems and between different local authorities by 2027. To enable this they must take an imminent decision on whether to adopt the NHS number as a consistent identifier.
- Parental representation should be offered to all families in child protection.
- Improve the quality and consistency of local and judicial decision making through improving the quality and transparency of data and facilitating learning at a local level.
- The Public Law Working Group should lead work to bring learning from the Family Drug and Alcohol Courts and other problem-solving approaches into public law proceedings, to make proceedings less adversarial and improve parents’ engagement in the process.
- Keeping children safe is one of the most important roles a council has, and supporting children’s social workers to carry out this role effectively is vital.
- We are pleased that the review recognised that councils are able to effectively deliver both family help and child protection, ensuring that children’s social care teams can support children as risk levels change and to avoid children falling through gaps between systems.
- Integrating government funding to support young people at risk has been a call from councils for many years and will support local areas to develop the support needed locally, allowing them to build support around children and young people.
- We strongly support plans to improve information sharing between councils and their partners. This is an issue that too often features in Serious Case Reviews and action is needed to finally overcome the persistent challenges to improvement, including ensuring that information teams have the capacity and skills to make best use of data. Government support and a strong focus across agencies will be needed to deliver on these recommendations.
- Developing learning and feedback loops for the judiciary, so that the impact of decision-making is better understood, will help to improve the quality and consistency of decision-making, while work to make legal proceedings less adversarial is likely to improve outcomes for children and their families and is therefore to be welcomed.
Chapter Four: Unlocking the potential of family networks
This chapter outlines the evidence for improving the use of kinship and ‘shared care’ (in which parents are supported by their family, wider networks, foster carers or children’s homes).
The review proposes:
- Introducing a legal right to family group decision making (such as Family Group Conferencing) for all families before they reach Public Law Outline, with flexibility to allow for urgent cases where this is not possible.
- The introduction of a “Family Network Plan” which sets out the support, monitoring and supervision of a family led alternative to care (including shared care) where this is in the best interests of the child
- All councils should make a financial allowance paid at the same rate as their fostering allowance available for special guardians and kinship carers with a Child Arrangement Order looking after children who would otherwise be in care
- Legal aid should be provided in a range of circumstances where special guardians and kinship carers with a Child Arrangement Order interact with the family courts.
- All new special guardians and kinship carers with a Child Arrangement Order should be given kinship leave which matches the entitlement given to adopters.
- Councils should develop peer support and training for all kinship carers
- Government should develop a new legal definition of kinship care, taking a broad range of circumstances into account
- Contact arrangements between birth parents, adopted children and adoptive parents should be assumed by default and modernised through the swift roll out of technology enabled methods of contact such as Letterswap.
- Many of the recommendations outlined in this section, including family group conferencing, peer support for kinship carers and paying financial allowances to kinship carers, build on existing good practice. The ability of all councils to deliver these, however, has been increasingly challenged by the exceptionally difficult funding situation councils face. We welcome calls for additional funding to be made available to enable councils to move to a system in which all families and kinship carers receive the support they need, when they need it.
- We support the recommendation of the review to develop a new legal definition of kinship care, building on work by the Family Rights Group, to ensure that those caring for children in a range of circumstances are able to receive the support they are entitled to.
Chapter Five: Transforming Care
This chapter outlines the current challenges in ensuring that children in care have the right homes to meet their needs, including inflexibility in regulations, insufficient support for foster carers and a lack of coordination across the system.
The review proposes:
- All children in care should receive care – including in what is currently referred to as “unregulated accommodation”.
- A new, single set of ambitious care standards should replace current regulations for children’s homes, fostering placements and unregulated provision.
- The introduction of up to 20 Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs), owned and run by councils, which would:
- Have the sufficiency duty in the local area
- Run and create public sector fostering, residential and secure provision for the area
- Commission not-for-profit and private sector care for children where they choose to do so.
- Small children’s homes should be exempt from planning regulations.
- Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres should be phased out over the next ten years and replaced by secure children’s homes or secure schools run or commissioned by RCCs.
- New oversight powers for Ofsted to enable it to interrogate financial records of providers and powers to take action where a provider is operating at a high level of financial risk.
- A windfall tax on profits made by the largest private children’s homes provider and independent fostering agencies, generating hundreds of millions of pounds to contribute to the transformation of the care system.
- The review states that providing care for children should not be based on profit, but does not recommend a ban on profit-making or introducing price/profit caps.
- The DfE should, within six months, launch a national foster carer recruitment campaign to recruit 9,000 additional foster carers over the next 3 years.
- Family group decision-making should be used to identify important adults already known to a child, such as teachers or parents of friends, who may be willing to foster.
- Foster carers should be given delegated authority by default to take decisions which affect the day-to-day lives of children in their care.
- An uplift of £82 million over five years to improve foster carer support, based on the principles of the Mockingbird model.
- The removal of the Independent Reviewing Officer and Regulation 44 Visitor roles, to be replaced by independent, opt-out advocacy for children run by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
- There are clear benefits to more collaborative working in some areas of commissioning. In particular, we are keen to consider a national approach to investment in and coordination of provision for children and young people with the most complex and challenging needs.
- Councils are clear that they, working with partners and carers and listening to children and families, are best placed to identify the right home for each individual child they look after. They are corporate parents to these children and work to ensure children’s voices help to shape overall provision while working with partners to build support around the child. Local autonomy in decision-making is vital to ensure councils are able to use this knowledge and local connections to provide the best placement for each child, keeping that child’s voice and needs at the centre.
- Relationships between individual councils and providers are also vital, particularly where providers are located within a council’s locality. These are not only important in managing the placements of individual children, but in building local capacity and responding to local need.
- Locally-led solutions, rather than structures imposed from above, allow councils to build on existing relationships and respond to local contexts. Many areas already have strong regional or sub-regional or local arrangements that have good relationships with local providers developed over many years. We would not want to see these lost. We must also recognise the very different challenges that may be faced by different areas; a shire county, for example, may have very different issues than an inner-London borough.
- Where we see existing commissioning partnerships working well, often there has been investment in dedicated capacity to manage this. Rather than setting up new bodies to manage placements which would be expensive and add another layer of bureaucracy, funded support for collaborative arrangements could help to tackle some of the issues without infringing on existing good practice or removing local autonomy.
- We strongly support calls for Ofsted to have oversight of the finances of private providers, which is something we have been calling for for several years as profit making and financial risk amongst the largest providers has increased.
- We have also been calling on the Government to commit to a fostering recruitment campaign for some time, and encourage the Government to work with councils to develop an evidence-based campaign that can achieve strong national reach with the opportunity for tailor this for local circumstances for maximum impact.
- We are keen to discuss recommendations around Independent Reviewing Officers, Regulation 44 Visitors and independent advocacy further with our members, children’s rights groups and others in the sector.
- We are disappointed that the review did not consider the issue of foster carer employment status. This is an issue that continues to arise and it would have been helpful to see recommendations to confirm whether foster carers should be considered employees in the longer-term to prevent ongoing legal challenges and uncertainty for foster carers, fostering agencies and the children they care for.
- We would have also liked to see consideration in this section of the role of health in supporting placements for children with complex or challenging needs. In particular, reductions in inpatient mental health beds are putting additional pressure on children’s social care (as acknowledged later by the report) and helping to drive the use of unregulated placements as councils struggle to find suitable homes for these young people. Health can and should play a key role in delivering appropriate homes for children in care and we urge government to consider this carefully in its response to the review.
Chapter Six: The care experience
This section outlines five “missions” to ensure care leavers have loving relationships, education, secure housing, employment and good health into old age.
The review proposes:
- Extending the ‘corporate parenting’ duty to a wider set of public bodies and consider changing the language to “community parenting”
- Making care experience a protected characteristic to reduce and actively tackle discrimination.
- National government to issue statutory guidance to councils setting out the priority that should be afforded to care experienced adults in accessing local services such as social housing.
- No young person should leave care without at least two loving relationships, by 2027.
- Councils should redesign their existing independent visitors scheme for children in care and care leavers to allow for long term relationships to be built.
- All councils should have skilled family finding support equivalent to the work of Lifelong Links, in place by 2024 at the latest.
- A new lifelong guardianship order should be created, allowing a care experienced person and an adult who loves them to form a lifelong, legal bond.
- Ofsted should amend social care inspection frameworks so that the quality and number of relationships held by a young person play a more significant role in judgements.
- Double the proportion of care leavers attending university, and particularly high tariff universities, by 2026
- Virtual School Heads should be assessed, in ILACS inspections, on Progress 8 for children in care.
- Pupil Premium funding should be used by VSHs on well evidenced interventions.
- VSHs should work to identify more children in care who might benefit from a place at a state or independent boarding schools, and the DfE should create a new wave of state boarding capacity led by the best existing schools.
- A new kitemark scheme should be introduced for higher education to drive improvements in admissions, access and support for those with care experience.
- Create at least 3,500 new well-paid jobs and apprenticeships for care leavers each year, by 2026.
- The Care Leaver Covenant should be refreshed to align with the five missions of the review.
- Employers should be able to apply for a new government-led accreditation scheme which recognises their commitment to supporting care leavers into well paid jobs.
- An annual care leaver bursary should be made available to all apprentices up to the age of 25.
- Employers should be allowed to use unspent apprenticeship levy funds to tailor support for those with care experience.
- Reduce care experience homelessness now, before ending it entirely.
- There should be a range of housing options open to young people transitioning out of care or who need to return, such as Staying Put, Staying Close and supported lodgings.
- Staying Close and Staying Put should be a legal entitlement and extended to 23 with an ‘opt out’ rather than an ‘opt in’ expectation
- Remove the local area connection test for care leavers accessing social housing
- End intentionally homeless practice for care leavers
- Provide rent guarantor schemes for care leavers
- Increase the leaving care grant to £2,438 for care experienced people.
- To increase the life expectancy of care experienced people, by narrowing health inequalities with the wider population:
- The identification and response to poor mental health issues (including those below CAMHS thresholds) should be a core part of training programmes for any professionals working with children and young people that have involvement with children’s services.
- Councils should ensure that children in care and leaving care teams have expertise in mental and physical health alongside other key areas for transitions including housing, youth offending, employment and immigration.
- Mental health support should be provided to anyone with care experience when they are accessing care records.
- Integrated Care Boards should publish their plans for improving the mental and physical health of those in care and leaving care and routinely publish progress.
- The Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS should exempt care leavers from prescription charges up to age 25.
- The Office for National Statistics should collect and report data on the mortality rate of care leavers and care leaver health outcomes.
- Government should launch a cohort study which tracks the health outcomes of care experienced people and helps to gather other missing data on housing, education and employment outcomes.
- Extending the corporate parenting duty to additional public sector bodies may be an important step in ensuring that all partners are working towards improved outcomes. However, there is a risk that this could ‘dilute’ the duty, therefore we would like to carefully consider the evidence from Scotland on this recommendation and discuss options with the Government to avoid unintended consequences.
- We welcome ambitions to ensure young people leave care with strong relationships. It would be helpful for practice guides within the National Framework for Children’s Social Care to outline methods of achieving this, rather than focussing specifically on, for example, independent visitors, to enable councils to build on current good practice.
- Virtual School Heads have a vital role in supporting the educational progress of children in care. However they are part of a wider system of support to children and we therefore do not support recommendations to hold them personally accountable through the ILACS framework for the educational attainment of children in care. Instead, all partners should work collectively to ensure that virtual schools are able to meet the needs of children in care and care leavers, with access to evidence for pupil premium funded interventions a helpful part of this.
- Staying Put is a welcome policy that provides looked-after children with a stable home and support in the same way that most of their peers will have. However, it is significantly underfunded and, alongside pressures on placement capacity, this is impeding our ability to ensure this option for all children. We welcome the review’s recommendation that young people can remain in these placements for longer, however this will be reliant on a successful foster carer recruitment campaign and sufficient funding.
- Poor mental health is a challenge for a significant number of care leavers and any recommendations to ensure young people can get the support they need are welcome. The NHS must commit to improving capacity within children’s mental health services – both at a Child and Adolescent Mental Health threshold and below this – to ensure that young people are able to get the support they need, when they need it.
Chapter Seven: Realising the potential of the workforce
The review proposes:
- Government action to tackle bureaucracy for social workers, with a goal of 50 per cent of social worker time spent working with families
- Establishing ‘feedback loops’ at national, regional and local levels to ensure that processes and regulations are adding value.
- All registered social workers should spend 100 hours a year in direct practice.
- DfE should fund trials to develop evidence of effective ways to increase social workers availability for families outside of normal working hours.
- Development of an “Early Career Framework” to cover the first five years in the profession, leading to the role of “Expert Practitioner”. Only Expert Practitioners would be able to take decisions on child protection cases, which they would co-work with other social workers.
- National pay scales should be introduced for social workers to recognise and reward development of expertise.
- Government should develop rules to tackle the overuse of agency social workers. When national pay scales are introduced, the rules should integrate rates of pay for agency social workers.
- Government should provide seed funding for local authorities to establish not-for-profit regional staff banks for social workers to rival agencies.
- Introduction of a “Knowledge and Skills statement” for family support workers
- Professional registration for all children’s home staff.
- A new leadership programme to train up to 700 new children’s home managers in the next five years, with a bursary to support “high potential individuals” transition into these roles.
- DfE should strengthen existing leadership programmes to better align them with the review’s reforms and increase the diversity of leadership.
- Councils consistently highlight challenges in securing a sufficient, stable workforce and we are keen to work with government on how to improve the recruitment and retention of all those in the children’s workforce, including children’s social workers.
- We welcome recognition in this section that “the greatest strength of the children’s social care system lies in its workforce”. Children’s social workers and the wider workforce do not receive the public recognition that their colleagues in health and education receive and they deserve, and in its response to this review the government should also consider how to improve public understanding of these vital roles. This includes consideration of how the media covers serious cases and how it discusses children’s social care more widely.
- The process of introducing national pay scales for children’s social workers would be extremely complex and time consuming. We are keen to work with government to consider whether this would address our current workforce challenges and how we could tackle any unintended consequences if this was introduced.
- We look forward to engaging with our members on these recommendations to consider how these could work operationally. We are interested in the degree to which these proposals have been tested with social workers and those who have recently left the profession to understand the impact they could have on social worker retention.
- Our members consistently raise challenges with ensuring children’s homes have the right staff in place to provide consistent, high quality care for children, therefore investment in children’s homes staff and in training additional children’s homes managers is very welcome.
Chapter Eight: A system that is relentlessly focused on children and families
This section of the report considers the system that will underpin the recommendations made throughout.
The review proposes:
- The development of a National Children’s Social Care Framework to set the purpose, objectives and outcomes for children’s social care, alongside practice guides setting out the best evidence for achieving these objectives.
- A ‘balanced scorecard’ of indicators for learning and improvement.
- An overhaul of data collections to ensure meaningful and consistent data is available more regularly to drive transparency and learning.
- Integration of overlapping What Works Centres, starting with What Works for Children’s Social Care and the Early Intervention Foundation.
- Clarifying the role of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements as a strategic forum. Clearer government expectations for the operational aspect of partnership working, with coordination and delivery of multi-agency working overseen by the Director of Children’s Services.
- The role of the DCS and councils to be reviewed to ensure they have a clear role as a champion for children and families across a local area.
- Working Together to clearly set out the individual contributions of partners to achieving the review’s vision. Minutes of partnership meetings to be published along with the financial contributions of each partner.
- The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel and relevant What Works Centres to take a more hands on role in promoting evidence and supporting partnerships to improve.
- Each safeguarding partner agency inspectorate should review their framework to ensure there is sufficient focus on individual agency contributions to joint working. Where there are concerns about the functioning of partnerships, joint inspections, with a judgement attached, should be triggered.
- Education should be added as a fourth statutory safeguarding partner.
- Government should incentivise greater partner contributions through requiring partners to publish their financial contribution and make receiving full funding for reform contingent on partner contributions.
- National government should ensure it has an oversight mechanism in place to ensure policy relating to children and families is coordinated. Government programmes should be streamlined to support these reforms.
- Youth justice policy should move to the DfE from the Ministry of Justice.
- Government should introduce an updated funding formula for children’s services and take greater care to ensure that changes in government policy that impact on the cost of delivering children’s social care are accompanied by additional resources for local government.
- Ofsted inspection should be reformed to increase transparency in how judgements are made, ensure inspection applied a ‘rounded’ understanding of being ‘child-focused’ (including looking at how parents are supported) and to ensure inspection supports the proposed reforms.
- The DfE should strengthen its intervention framework so that it intervenes “more decisively” in failing or ‘drifting’ authorities – including making it clear that services can be removed even where it is not inadequate across the board.
- Bring intervention commissioners into the DfE as “Regional Improvement Commissioners” responsible for overseeing the improvement of councils in a specified region.
- Ensure a clear sector-led improvement offer for all councils.
- Establish a National Data and Technology Taskforce to:
- Improve case management systems
- Achieve frictionless sharing of data across partners and between councils
- Improve data collection and how it is used to inform decision making
- The DfE should have a proactive strategy on making better use of data in children’s social care, including a strategy for linking children’s social care data with other data sources
- A National Children’s Social Care Framework will help to provide clarity to the sector while providing a clear ambition for all government departments and partners to align themselves with. We do have concerns around the introduction of scorecards with their potential for unintended consequences such as prioritising what is measured over what is needed, and focussing on national priority over local need. Any scorecard would need to be carefully developed with the sector to ensure its value with regard to learning and improvement.
- Providing clarity on both strategic and operational responsibilities of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements will be helpful.
- We support the proposal to make schools a statutory safeguarding partner and to contribute to the strategic and operational delivery of multi-agency working. We are however concerned whether a single individual, irrespective of their seniority, will be able to represent all schools in an area, including both primary and secondary schools, special schools and a number of different Multi-Academy Trusts, as well as council-maintained schools. The report acknowledges that in some areas, schools are making a positive contribution to multi-agency safeguarding arrangements and the learning from these areas should be used to consider how this recommendation could be implemented in all areas.
- In considering the role of councils and DCSs, it is important to also recognise the role of lead members for children’s services, overview and scrutiny and councillors as corporate parents.
- The coordination of family policy across Whitehall would support local delivery, and we would like to see this interpreted in its widest sense to ensure that all departments are supporting the DfE in its ambitions to improve the lives of children and families.
- We agree that the DfE should have a much stronger role to play in youth justice policy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in youth custody, where high rates of violence and self-harm amongst children and young people are unacceptably common.
- We have concerns around the report’s recommendations around intervention. Being graded ‘requires improvement’ is an ‘above the line’ judgement and we do not support a blanket extension of intervention to those councils subject to consecutive RI judgements. Removing services from councils has not been shown to be a guaranteed path to improvement; rather, there is a range of options for improvement depending on the council’s individual circumstances. We will shortly be publishing research that considers a range of options and the drivers for their success. Where performance issues are identified it is vital that councils, with the support of their Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliance, as well as the DfE, LGA and other partners as appropriate, can focus on improving performance as quickly as possible using approaches that reflect local circumstances and context.
- We also have significant concerns about recommendations to bring intervention commissioners into the DfE as regional improvement commissioners. We are unclear how these would hold sufficient independence from both the DfE and the council to provide impartial advice, and we are cautious about adding a further layer of oversight into the system which risks complicating the landscape without adding value.
- We welcome the report’s recognition of the value of sector-led improvement. As an independent evaluation of the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer highlights, such support can have a significant positive impact on the sector, and we are keen to continue working with the government to deliver such support.
- Recommendations around data could potentially make an enormous difference to children’s social care. Delivery of the recommendations will require a sharp focus from a range of government departments and local partners, including councils, to deliver, alongside appropriate investment.
- Any new investment made available through the review must be available to all councils, who must have discretion to invest this to meet local demand and local priorities.
Chapter Nine: Implementation
The review recommends:
- Investment of £2.6 billion over four years - £46 million in year one, £987 million in year two, £1.257 billion in year three and £233 million in year four, plus an additional estimated £50 million on other interventions over the investment period. This breaks down to:
- Approximately £2 billion on family help
- £23 million to bring parity between the support given to foster carers and Special Guardianship Order/kinship Child Order Arrangements and to establish family network plans
- £76 million to recruit 9,000 more foster carers over three years and to establish Regional Care Cooperatives
- £253 million investment in social work
- This section also outlines a proposed phasing of reform, starting with the publication of a White Paper, a foster carer recruitment programme and the development of a National Children’s Social Care Framework.
- Oversight of the reform programme is recommended to be by the Secretary of State for Education, who should hold others across government to account for progress and publish an annual report to parliament, with regular reviews by the Education Select Committee. A National Reform Board should also be established bringing together those with a stake in delivering reforms and those with lived experience of children’s social care.
- We have repeatedly called on the Government to sufficiently fund children’s social care, and prior to the review’s publication we highlighted that reform could not happen without genuinely transformational investment. With spend on children’s social care rising by hundreds of millions of pounds each year, the Government must make the required investment into the system as a matter of urgency.
- We support the review’s calls for a white paper, which will demonstrate the Government’s commitment to wider reform.
- It is vital that councils, as those responsible for planning and delivering childrens social care, are represented on the National Reform Board alongside those with lived experience of children’s social care and our partners, to deliver the reforms that children and families deserve.