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Bevan Brittan Shared Learning Event – 3 reflections on the Government’s children’s social care reform agenda

Dominic Luscombe

On Thursday 7 March I joined Bevan Brittan for a shared learning event focused on the government’s children’s social care reform strategy. In support of this myself and my colleague Kate Dexter (Assistant Director, Family Help and High Needs at Norfolk County Council) gave a presentation on the proposals set out in Stable Homes, Built on Love, progress made to date, alongside some reflections on these proposals and what they mean for the sector.

For those interested in the detail of the proposals and progress made to date I’ve attached a few useful links at the end of the blog. In this presentation I shared a number of reflections and observations. I’ve captured and summarised three of these below: 

  1. Progress made since launch of strategy and some positive responses: All three Families First Pathfinders and the seven Family Network pilots are in delivery mode with clear innovation, learning and new approaches emerging. The next wave of pathfinders are due to be announced shortly, with Wave Two Family Network pilots already confirmed. In general, the focus on putting families at the centre of decision making and practice (e.g. through the focus on Family Network meetings, Family Group Conferencing and the shift to ‘Family Help’) and the ambition of shifting away from crisis intervention to more effective early support has been well received.
  1. Lacking level of investment required to transform system: Critically the £2.6b investment called for in Josh McAllister’s review was not introduced. While many of the reforms represent the right direction it is difficult to see how they can deliver the aim of rebalancing the system away from crisis intervention towards more effective early support without this, particularly in the context of severe financial challenges for most LAs. The funding for the pathfinder programme runs till 2025 and the three sites have the challenge of determining how new roles recruited will be funded beyond this. Beyond 2025 what investment will follow for current pathfinder sites, the next wave and remaining local authorities in England?
  1. Proposals on care provision and market will not solve national sufficiency challenge: There are clear potential benefits to a regional approach to ensuring children have the right homes and care for their needs. Structural integration and/or shared commissioning approaches across regions (and additional investment in local authority residential provision) however do not represent a ‘silver bullet’. How we commission care and collaborate with care providers, and how this connects with children’s needs, their aspirations and the practice of those supporting them hold the key – whether at a local, regional or national level. There is an opportunity to coalesce around shared data on children’s needs, changes in need over time and cost at a regional or even national level to reframe our approach to sufficiency and market management. I’m not convinced this opportunity is fully recognised or grasped within current plans and proposals.

At this session I touched on some other key considerations and questions – how will Ofsted ensure changes at a local level are compliant? To what extent do many reforms represent enhancement or evolution versus radical reform (recognising many LAs are already delivering many aspects)?

There is also the question of what the upcoming election and next government will mean for this agenda. How might we expect a Labour government to treat Josh McAllister’s call for £2.6b investment (particularly given the latter’s entry into politics – he is standing as a Labour MP)?

More questions than answers at this stage, but do get in touch if there is anything here you’d find it useful to discuss.

Here are some useful links:

Presentations at NCASC 2023 – including session on Families First Pathfinders

Children’s social care reform statement, December 2023

Families First Pathfinders and Family Network Pilots

LGA summary of Stable Homes, Built on Love and consultation 

Written by

Dominic Luscombe

Delivery Director, IMPOWER



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