On 8 February 2023, the Government produced a report following three independent reviews into the care system:
These three independent reviews showed the current care system to often be fragmented and struggling to meet the needs of children and families across England. The Government has launched its proposed strategy for reform in children’s social care within the report ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’ which was published on 8 February 2023.
The Government states that their strategy is to focus on what really matters to children, which is “family, love and a safe, stable and reliable place to call home”. The strategy is supported by a £200m investment over the next two years.
The report sets out six pillars of their approach towards children’s social care, and a number of measures to support or implement each pillar:
Some of the key measures announced in the strategy to support these pillars include:
The majority of these proposals will be evaluated over two years before being rolled out more widely.
While the reforms have largely been welcomed, they are less extensive than the 80 proposals for reform backed by £2.6bn over 5 years that was called for in the Independent Review.
Key figures within the sector – including Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Review – question whether the strategy goes far enough to reduce the number of children coming into care and to resolve the issues around recruitment and retention of social workers and foster carers.
There have also been criticisms on the extent of funding allocated to the proposed reforms. The Local Government Association notes that: “The funding announced, while helpful, falls short of addressing the £1.6bn shortfall – estimated prior to inflation – required each year to simply maintain current service levels.”
On a similar note, the Shadow Minister for Children & Early Years Helen Hayes has criticised the strategy stating that “the measures announced … fall far short of the ‘radical reset’ of children’s social care called for”.
The Government is consulting on many aspects of their report. The consultation closes on 11 May 2023 and a further response is expected in September.
It is clear from the three independent reviews that reform is necessary to children’s social care and the current system is not sufficiently protecting children or ensuring that children in care are given the best opportunities. Keoghs has previously provided commentary on the problems facing children’s social care: Spotlight on Children's Services in the pandemic | Keoghs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly amidst the cost of living crisis, the level of funding recommended by the Independent Review has not been allocated to the reforms. This limits the extent of the reforms and results in a package that is not as extensive as that recommended by the review.
Ultimately it is hoped that these measures will improve the lives of children in care and go some way to resolve the issues highlighted in the Independent Review. We await detail of the final reforms later this year following the consultation that ends in May 2023.
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