THE CHILDREN’S SOCIAL CARE REVIEW for England has published a new document summing up the feedback it received on its interim report, The Case for Change, published two months ago.

The introduction explains that the document “reflects back what we’ve heard through the feedback form, both in response to the specific questions we asked and about what we missed or misunderstood”.

Going through each of the five chapters of The Case for Change, the feedback document, published on 13 October, sums up the main messages from respondents and sets out what the review considers it missed or misunderstood in the interim report.

Chapter four concerns children in care and the review admits it omitted “the importance of children’s rights, independent advocacy and listening to the views of children and young people in all decisions which affect them”. An extract from Article 39’s response to The Case for Change is shown to illuminate concerns expressed about the review’s neglect of children’s rights.

The document states the review is “unequivocal in our support for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but [we] are also clear that on its own it will not be enough to ensure that all children grow up in loving, stable, safe homes – for this we need to go beyond rights and into the relationships that children need in their lives”.

Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39, which advocates for the rights of children in institutional settings, said: “The review seems to be setting up a fight between rights and relationships, when in reality they are inseparable. Once you recognise children as thinking, feeling human beings, which is fundamental to a children’s rights approach, you cannot ever forget the importance of their connections and relationships with others. It’s when adults spring into rescue or paternalism mode, that children’s integrity gets lost and they can be ‘done unto’ without understanding or being curious about how they are feeling, what they want and treasure in their lives, and what makes them happy or afraid.

“It’s lazy to present the Convention on the Rights of the Child as being divorced from children’s abiding need for love, security and belonging. This treaty provides the international framework for ensuring every child has the best childhood possible. It’s depressing to have to have such a starter-level debate about children’s rights when the UK ratified the Convention 30 years ago, and in Scotland they’ve passed legislation to bring it fully alive for children there. It’s also not lost on me that the chair of the review previously served on the Children’s Commissioner’s advisory board which is the statutory body for promoting and protecting children’s rights.”

The review’s prior support for the UK Government’s legal change, which guarantees care only to children aged 15 and younger, is confirmed in the new document. The legal change is due to be challenged by Article 39 in the High Court on 16 December. The feedback document recognises “there are strong feelings and legitimate concerns” though it still backs the government’s approach of introducing standards for supported accommodation which deliberately miss out any requirement to provide care.

Carolyne Willow added: “Despite the review acknowledging that many respondents challenged its support for the government, today’s document shows there has been no reflection or movement. In some ways it’s worse as the rationale repeats the misunderstanding of The Case for Change two months ago.

“Today’s document claims that the government’s proposed standards for supported accommodation are the quickest means of improving the plight of 16 and 17 year-olds living in supported accommodation. This misses the point that the draft standards deliberately miss out any requirement to provide day-to-day care for children who are still in care and completing their compulsory education and training. Let’s also remember that the current Secretary of State, Nadhim Zahawi, promised action on this as far back as July 2019 when he was Children’s Minister.

“It is simply wrong for the review to pretend this is a quick fix – if ministers had treated this with urgency, there would have been significant financial investment to ensure the many thousands of children in unregulated settings are cared for and protected, rather than helping a few children through creating a legal demarcation based on age, not need. The review says it will listen more before coming to a broader position on care options for children, but it has today confirmed that it still backs care ending at age 16.

“Children’s homes quality standards apply to a wide range of settings already – establishments we know as children’s homes, short break care services, secure accommodation and residential special schools and boarding schools when children live there for more than 295 days a year. They will also apply to secure schools. The government’s inferior, care-less standards for supported accommodation, backed by the review, keep these properties and the providers outside of the care system – they work in the interests of owners, not of highly vulnerable children. Shame on the care review for not holding the line that all children in care must actually be cared for where they live.”

* Read The Case for Change here.

* Read Article 39’s response to The Case for Change here.

* Read the feedback document here.

* Source: Article 39