The Care Crisis Review has today published its report. It considers how to address the Care Crisis, and explores the factors which have contributed to the number of children in care reaching the highest level since the Children Act 1989 was enacted and care order applications reaching record levels in 2017. The Review has brought together a ‘coalition of the willing’ from across the child welfare and family justice sectors in England and Wales. It was a response to the President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir James Munby’s call to action in 2016: “We are facing a crisis and, truth be told, we have no very clear strategy for meeting the crisis. What is to be done?”
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation and facilitated by Family Rights Group, the Review comprised an inclusive listening exercise with over 2,000 people across England and Wales. This was complemented by a rapid academic review of evidence about the contributing factors to the crisis. It found:
- There is a sense of crisis felt by many young people, families and those working within the system.
- Professionals are frustrated at working in a sector that is overstretched and overwhelmed and in which, too often, children and families do not get the direct help they need early enough to prevent difficulties escalating.
- There was a palpable sense of unease about how lack of resources, poverty and deprivation are making it harder for families and the system to cope.
- Contributors expressed a strong sense of concern that a culture of blame, shame and fear has permeated the system, affecting those working in it as well as the children and families reliant upon it. It was suggested that this had led to an environment that is increasingly mistrusting and risk averse and prompts individuals to seek refuge in procedural responses.
Despite these concerns, the Review found that the child welfare legislative framework is basically sound and there are some local authorities that are bucking the national trend. The system works well sometimes: children and families described individual practitioners who had transformed their lives and professionals described innovations, approaches and leaders who enable them to practice in a way that is respectful, humane and rewarding. The Review also found common agreement about the way forward, with a consensus that relationship building has been and is at the heart of good practice.
Options for Change
The Review sets out 20 Options for Change, including:
- Immediate steps that could be taken to move away from an undue focus on processes and performance indicators, to one where practitioners are able to stay focused on securing the right outcomes for each child.
- Approaches, including family group conferences, in which families are supported to make safe plans for their child.
- Suggestions of ways in which statutory guidance, such as Working Together to Safeguard Children, can be changed in order to promote relationship-based practice.
- Opportunities for revitalising local and national family justice forums and other mechanisms, so that all can become places where challenges within the system are discussed and solutions developed.
- Proposals for the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, in consultation with the devolved administrations, to examine the impact of benefit rules and policies, and the projected effect of planned benefit reforms, on the numbers of children entering or remaining in care.
- A call for the Ministry of Justice to undertake an impact assessment of the present lack of accessible, early, free, independent advice and information for parents and wider family members on the number of children subject to care proceedings or entering or remaining in the care system, and the net cost to the public purse.
- That the National Family Justice Board revises the approach to measuring timescales, including the 26 week timescale for care proceedings.
- That there are improvements in exploring and assessing potential carers from within the family, when a child cannot live at home, and better support is provided to such carers and children so they do not face severe financial hardship.
- That Ofsted and Social Care Wales in their inspections and research should take into account the duties on local authorities to support families and to promote children’s upbringing within their family.
£2 billion shortfall in children’s social care service
The Review also supports the ADCS and LGA’s call for Government to make up the £2 billion shortfall in children’s social care service. Money and resources matter for families and for services. It also highlights the need for an additional ring fenced fund which can act as a catalyst for local authorities and their partner agencies to achieve changes needed in their local context to address the crisis.
Nigel Richardson, Chair of the Review said:
“Dealing with the crisis is complex – inevitably so, because children and families live increasingly complex lives. But making the difference cannot be just about constant re-structures, or ever changing systems – the fundamental basis of our child welfare approach is encouragingly sound. The way forward has to be about working with complexity to offer hope. Offering an inclusive approach to family decision making so that families are helped to better understand the concerns about a child’s welfare and then helped to coordinate and propose a safe response to those concerns from within their own, usually extensive, family and friends network. It’s about moving away from an over reliance on the language of assessment and intervention and more towards understanding and helping. It’s about being less adversarial, risk averse and harsh and much more collaborative and kind.”
Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation said:
“Bringing people together from across the sector in this way has been invaluable in beginning to understand and address the ‘care crisis’. This type of coordinated response across England and Wales allows us to understand how the increase in care order applications differs from region to region, and the localised responses deployed to address it. The proposals outlined in the report are a result of a collaborative process and offer some initial changes that could be made to improve outcomes for children and their families.”
Participants in the Review included the Local Government Association, Ofsted, Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services, third sector organisations and alliances, the Offices of the English and Welsh Children’s Commissioners, members of the judiciary, lawyers, social care practitioners, young people and families.