Yesterday the government’s children’s social care strategy was published in response to the recent independent care review. There are a range of views and responses from the sector, and some emerging areas of consensus. There are proposals and areas of focus that will be welcomed: the strengthening and growth of kinship and foster care, support to develop and strengthen whole system family help and children protection, and a new cohort of social work apprentices.
But there is also a strong sense of an opportunity missed in terms of the scale and ambition of this strategy. These proposals are not supported with the transformational investment needed to affect change at a national level, and involve no legislative change. However, with the right approach to local delivery there is some opportunity for proposals and investment to help local areas to improve outcomes and life chances for children and families in the care system. Here are three reflections:
Fostering and kinship care: £27m over two years to support foster carer recruitment and retention will be welcomed by the sector. Our learning from helping a range of local areas to significantly increase foster carer recruitment, retention and utilisation, is that success or failure rests on the approach to local delivery. Successful approaches have used local word-of-mouth and social media campaigns which segment and target prospective carers based on values, and are designed and delivered through local networks of existing foster carers. If this investment is focused on the right activity (and not on traditional mixed-media campaigns at a local or regional level) it could have a big impact – and even pave the way for the big national shift in carer recruitment that the sector is crying out for. The investment and focus on kinship care is also great to see but will need the right approach to local delivery – and will need to be driven by a consistent approach to capturing and understanding children’s needs (see below).
Family help: The principles and thinking set out around Family Help will be welcomed by most and mirror the best practice we’ve seen in this space in the last 15 years (e.g. the Family Intervention Programmes which preceded the Troubled Families Programme). Breaking down the barriers between ‘Children in Need’ and ‘Early Help’ could help to ensure intensive family support reaches the right families, and the emphasis is right on enabling professionals and teams to work across organisational and procedural boundaries. £45m for a pathfinder programme across 12 areas falls short of the ambition and investment set out in the independent review. There is, however, an opportunity for a ‘test and learn’ approach to demonstrate the clear case for local investment in a whole system approach to early intervention and prevention for families. We have supported a number of local areas to do this – through trialling and scaling models which bring together different practitioners into multi-disciplinary teams with a shared set of target outcomes, and a shared focus on relational and strengths-based practice.
Focus on needs, costs and outcomes: The care review and the government strategy both fail to address a key root cause of poor outcomes for children living in care and the sufficiency challenges we see nationally. Locally and nationally, there is no consistent way of capturing, tracking or responding to needs at a child or population level. We are working with a small group of LAs who are demonstrating that smarter capture and tracking of children’s needs and strengths over time (using the Valuing Care approach) has the power to transform local practice and commissioning, raise outcomes for children, improve the value of care, and reduce costs. This learning has clear application to other areas and the proposed Children’s Social Care National Framework and Dashboard present an opportunity to apply this learning at a national level.
It will be important to further digest, reflect and discuss these proposals, and how the sector can respond. If you’d welcome a conversation around this please get in touch.