While the “Stable Homes, Built on Love” strategy has the right approach to tackle the issues with children’s social care, it falls short in delivering the “radical reset” required, said the Lords Committee.
“The Strategy lacks the scale, ambition, funding and pace to realise any immediate benefit,” said the Committee, adding that most will only see a minor change for several years yet under the current timeline.
The report finds that the voices of children and young people are often not heard when decisions are made about their care. The Strategy proposes the use of advocacy services to combat this, but these services must be fully independent and able to hold local authorities to account, urged the Committee.
The report highlights what it says are ever-increasing vacancies in the children and family social care workforce. “There is not enough in the Strategy on recruiting additional staff to support those already performing demanding roles in difficult circumstances,” it’s said.
The Committee also heard concerns about the quality of residential care. It reported a severe shortage of placements meaning that some young people are placed far away from their families. These placements, they say, are not universally providing the care children need.
“With demand high, and supply low, the power is with the providers to charge high prices. By creating Regional Care Cooperatives, the Strategy places responsibility for commissioning regionally, but the case has not been made that this will improve standards or prices. Alternative approaches should be explored. The voices of young people and families will be key when evaluating any proposed approaches,” added the Committee.
It was also said that a severe shortage of foster carers means that local authorities must take what they can get meaning children and young people sometimes being placed in unsuitable settings.
They added current foster care recruitment programmes are not delivering the number of foster care placements needed, and in some cases are failing to ensure the safety of children in foster care.
“The children’s care system is in crisis and while the Government’s Strategy is a step in the right direction it falls short of delivering the immediate real time benefits to children and families that we need. The Strategy is a golden opportunity, but it could be wasted,” said Baroness Morris of Yardley, Chair of the Public Services Committee. She added:
“Vulnerable young people are being failed by the system. There are shortages of every kind of care, and children are being placed in settings that do not work for them. This is untenable. As one young person we spoke to told us: ‘I am a person not a number’.
The Government’s plan has much to recommend it, but unless the proposals go further and faster, the Strategy will leave many children behind. While we accept that not every reform can be introduced everywhere immediately, the Government must ensure that all children and families engaged in the care system see some immediate benefit and can be sure that significant improvements and reform will follow.”