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Care Crisis Review published

Major Review confirms crisis in Children’s Social Care and Family Justice Sector and sets out 20 options for change

On the 13th of June the report Care Crisis Review: options for change was published.

The report 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.

The Review has published the following suite of materials:

The Care Crisis Review: Options for change full report

The Care Crisis Review: Summary and list of options for change

The Care Crisis Review: Factors contributing to national increases in numbers of looked after children and applications for care orders

The Care Crisis Review: Care experienced young people and adults survey results

The Care Crisis Review: Family survey results

The Care Crisis Review: Professionals survey results

The Care Crisis Review: Children's Principal Social Work Network survey finding

The Care Crisis Review: Analysis of focus group responses from care experienced young people.