THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF CHILDREN’S SOCIAL CARE has published its final report, calling for a fundamental reset of the system to improve the quality of life for children, their families, and those that have been in care

The review says its recommendations seek to strengthen the protection of children, improve the help available to families raising children in conditions of adversity, and make lifelong loving relationships ‘the obsession’ of the care system.

The report sets out five Missions for young people leaving care:

  1. No young person should leave care without at least two loving relationships, by 2027.
  2. Double the proportion of care leavers attending university, and particularly high tariff universities, by 2026.
  3. Create at least 3,500 new well paid jobs and apprenticeships for care leavers each year, by 2026.
  4. Reduce care experience homelessness now, before ending it entirely.
  5. To increase the life expectancy of care experienced people, by narrowing health inequalities with the wider population.

The review has calculated that the lifetime costs of adverse outcomes of children’s social care is £23 billion each year, and is recommending an injection of £2.6 billion as part of a five year reform programme.

Responding to the report, Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39, a charity which fights for the rights of children living in state and privately-run institutions in England, said: “There are thousands of children in care who are living in unregulated properties where there aren’t any carers or consistent adult supervision. Children are being sent hundreds of miles away from their communities to Scotland, and the family courts are inundated with stories of desperately vulnerable children and local authorities who have nowhere for them to go. Children who arrive in the UK on flimsy boats, without parents or carers, are being put by the Home Office into hotels because the care system has been closed to them.

“In every part of England, our communities have adults in them still struggling to come to terms with childhoods where they didn’t feel loved or that they mattered, and a care system which left them to fend for themselves at the earliest opportunity. The care system, like many other collective endeavours in our country, has been undermined and starved of public funds.

“Against this backdrop, it is heart-sinking that the care review’s principal recommendations are for major structural reorganisation, which will, for years, consume many millions of pounds and the hearts and minds of people who could instead be leading cultural change to put children and their rights at the heart of everything. It is depressing that, yet again, there are proposals to take away legal protections from children, and that the promise of strengthened advocacy services, which exist to make sure children are always heard and their rights defended, has been tied to the loss of other independent roles.

“The review is rightly passionate about the need for fundamental change, and sets out a powerful case for it. There are individual proposals within the review’s report which have the potential to make life hugely better for children in care, particularly for those children whose families can be properly supported to look after them well. But this will be a review remembered for the structural reorganisation of children’s social care, moving people, services, power and funding away from local authorities. At any time, this kind of major structural upheaval would be questionable. When there are children in the care of the state who are living in hotels, bedsits and caravans, it could be an unforgivable distraction.”

Article 39 draws attention to the review’s proposal for a windfall tax on the 15 largest companies running children’s homes and fostering services, saying, “no other brakes on profit-making in children’s social care are proposed.”

Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, welcomed the report, saying: “Too many children, young people and families who need help are being failed.

“Children in desperate need of support and protection are too often turned away by cash-strapped, stretched children’s services departments, or fail to get the early and sustained help they desperately need. That means these children are more likely to come to harm and need more costly long-term support, with increasing numbers going into care – often far from their friends and family. In care, the support young people receive also too often falls short, leaving them exposed to further risks like sexual and criminal exploitation, as well as placement breakdowns.

“Children and their families deserve better. I am grateful to Josh MacAlister for this important review. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform outcomes for some of our most disadvantaged young people and tackle some of these unacceptable systemic failures.

“Its recommendations are bold, ambitious and comprehensive, and there is much to welcome, especially the emphasis on boosting early help to prevent children reaching crisis point. Proposals for a better targeted response for teenagers at risk of abuse and exploitation by predators outside their families are also very welcome. We see the devastating impact on young people’s lives where this support is not available and they are sexually exploited or groomed by criminal groups into crimes like county lines drug dealing.

“While there are details which need be looked at more closely, these proposals have the potential to ensure more young people and families get the help they deserve and have hope for the future. Implementing the recommendations will take political will across government departments and significant funding and the investment proposed by the review is likely to be the minimum needed to bring about the radical change required.

“The voices of young people must be at the forefront of the process and for their sake, the Government must act with urgency. The review must not be left to gather dust and filed under ‘hard to do’ – doing so risks the happiness, safety, and life chances of another generation of children being jeopardised.”

* Sources: The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, The Children’s Society and Article 39