The government has launched a new plan to transform children’s social care by increasing early support for families, reducing the need for crisis response at a later stage.
The plan, backed by £200 million over the next two years, follows recommendations made by three independent reviews by Josh MacAlister, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel into the tragic 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.
The Department for Education said children who grow up in loving, stable homes tend to have better outcomes, therefore their 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 will be prioritised by simplifying the process and providing more support to extended families. The government will also provide training and support to kinship carers.
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. This is alongside £25 million over the next 2 years on a recruitment and retention programme.
Measures announced in the strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love, include:
- Introducing more effective, joined-up family help for those that are struggling
- Where a child is at risk of harm, experts will intervene swiftly and decisively to protect them
- Harnessing the value of family networks by supporting the kinship care system
- Transforming the experiences of children in care and care leavers, by prioritising children in care living in homes close to their family, friends, communities and schools
- Expanding and strengthening the children’s social care workforce
- Setting clearer direction for everyone who works in the system, through a new children’s social care national framework and dashboard
“Children in care deserve the same love and stability as everyone else. Yet we’ve seen from the 2 tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson that more needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable children,” said Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho, adding:
“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.”
However, Katharine Sacks-Jones, CEO at Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers, pointed out the flaws in the government’s plans. She suggested that, with their proposed implementation plan “lacking the urgent action and investment needed to make this vision a reality”, the government is “effectively putting 82,000 children in care at the bottom of the pile”.
“After decades of underinvestment, the care system is now in crisis and £200 million […] won’t even scratch the surface. We are extremely disappointed that the Government is choosing to invest so little in our country’s most vulnerable children. With rising poverty leading to even more children entering care over the coming years, pressure and instability within the system will continue to rise at an alarming rate.
While there are some proposals we welcome – including steps in the right direction to #EndTheCareCliff faced by young people leaving care – these plans must go further and faster. We need a national strategy to create more of the right homes for children to grow up and thrive in, all children receiving care up to the age of 18, and an end to the care cliff once and for all.”