Few would disagree with the diagnosis of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care published on Monday – the current system is failing too many children and a radical reset is required. The recognition and ambition of a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to reform the system will be welcomed by all those working to improve life chances for children.
There are a wide range of proposals in the report, some offering genuine promise and others with questions remaining around potential impact on the drivers of challenges within the current system and/or with limited supporting evidence. Here are five key reflections…
- Rethinking how we care for children. Expanding and better enabling kinship care, and a foster care recruitment drive is absolutely critical to reforming the care system. While the group purchasing power of the proposed Regional Care Cooperatives may have some impact, this structural response will not address key underlying causes of challenges within the current market. These include: 1) the lack of a consistent approach to understanding children’s needs among practitioners, commissioners and providers; 2) a systemic focus on risk and deficits, and; 3) the absence of outcome monitoring and tracking. Our Valuing Care approach demonstrates the positive change that can be achieved by focusing on all three at a local level.
- A revolution in Family Help. A focus on multi-agency teams working in localities around schools and communities to provide intensive support to families, and reducing ‘hand offs’ between agencies is the right focus (while not ‘new’ per se and reflecting previous policy aims). The £2billion investment proposed could have a significant impact if complemented by the right local focus, direction and investment.
- Rethinking Child Protection. A focus on improving how agencies and individuals work together should be welcomed – and the report includes some sensible proposals to support this, including more focus on continuous professional development. However, there are no structural quick fixes here, and the introduction of ‘Expert Child Protection Practitioners’ will need to avoid a shift away from the message that safeguarding is ‘everybody’s business’.
- Alignment with policy direction on SEND. There is limited mention of the SEND and AP green paper in the report. As highlighted to me by a Director of Children’s Services, many of the proposals around investing in and supporting the workforce and system are not mirrored in the SEND green paper. We know that there is a significant cohort of children with SEND known to Children’s Services, and sometimes a lack of join up between teams supporting them. The policy proposals and investment need to avoid reinforcing the very silos they are aiming to break down.
- Focusing on ‘how’ not ‘what’. If we have learned anything from the various national policies and legislation over the years, it is that the success or failure of attempts to reform depend on how they are implemented at a local level. In our experience this is more dependent on culture and behaviour among leaders and frontline teams than changes to policy, process or structure. (this is reflected in our EDGEWORK approach, based on 20 years of delivering change at the frontline).
So in summary – some welcome and promising proposals, which need to be accompanied by focus on the drivers of the challenges described, and the right approach to delivery and implementation at a local level.