Back in January, when the independent review of children’s social care was announced, I said I would start the review by listening deeply. That’s why I began the review process a bit differently with a ‘Call for Advice’, rather than a traditional ‘Call for Evidence’.
The ‘Call for Advice’ has given me diverse ideas on what I should be reading, who I should be talking to, what questions I should be asking, and how best to engage with children, young people and families.
We have received over 800 responses – from a broad range of families, children and professionals (see chart 1). Thank you so much to all those who took the time to respond and share your guidance with me. Your suggestions have already shaped my thinking at the very start of this review
Chart 1: Call for Advice: Submissions by Group
I’ve read the responses as they’ve been coming in (fuelled by plenty of coffee!) and I’ll continue to make my way through the final few responses before the Call for Advice closes. In the meantime I wanted to share with you the themes of advice that we have drawn from your submissions.
Who should I prioritise speaking to?
Responses to this question were a great reminder of the very wide range of people who make a difference to the lives of children and young people. Recurring advice was to speak directly with social workers and foster carers, children and parents. But there were also more specific suggestions to speak to independent visitors, health practitioners and community organisations.
These suggestions have all been logged by my team and as we build our engagement plans we will make sure we bring in the different perspectives that have been suggested. We are planning a range of ways to get these views – whether this is through events, round tables or meetings – and we hope many of our events will be led by people with lived experience of children’s social care. Where people have asked to be added to our mailing list we will be in touch with opportunities as they become available, and we have made available an initial set of events on our website. If you suggested a person who should participate in the review but didn’t give their email address please ask them to subscribe for updates to hear about upcoming opportunities to get involved.
How best should I engage children, young people and families who have experienced children’s services?
The responses to this question have been varied – but two common themes stood out. The first is that you were clear there should be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to hearing the views of people with lived experience of children’s social care – most of you thought we should be prioritising a wide range of methods. Secondly, the importance of deep listening and providing time and space for people to share views really came across in the responses.
Many of you suggested that the best way to hear the voice of children is through working with people they already know and trust – whether that’s a parent, family member, social worker, teacher or carer. A number of you also thought that we should be exploring innovative and online approaches, working with charities and other voluntary organisations, and making best use of social media to capture views.
We received far fewer submissions which focussed on how we should engage families, we would be keen to hear more about this. Those of you who did provide views pointed out the importance of including birth parents, kinship carers and siblings – and ensuring the review hears the voice of those families who wouldn’t directly engage with review. We have begun engaging with organisations such as Family Rights Group, Kinship, Siblings Together and individuals with lived experience for advice.
What should I be reading?
There has been an amazing response to this question, with you suggesting books, organisations, individuals and topics, as well as reports and research papers for me to read. The most common themes were around support for foster carers, trauma and trauma-informed practice, courts, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, and poverty. We will delve into the suggested reading that has been identified in more detail.
The team has logged all of the papers, articles and reports suggested and, along with the Call for Evidence, these will feed into thinking on the biggest issues, what needs changing, and what works. Interesting examples include (but are certainly not limited to), Kieran Breen’s article about why all you need is love and a village, Heather Otterway and Julie Selwyn’s report on compassion fatigue and foster carers, the University of Central Lancashire’s online resources around Adverse Childhood Experiences, and the Care Collective Zine.
What are the big questions we should be asking as part of the review?
Responses to the Call For Advice were crucial to the development of our early plans for the review, which included defining the Big Question that the review will focus on answering – how do we ensure children grow up in loving, stable and safe families and, where that is not possible, care provides the same foundations? I have been reading through each response and our analysts have looked to capture themes from across the 800 plus responses to this question:
1. Why is it so difficult to improve the system?
Many of you shared inspiring stories and thoughtful suggestions of ways we could improve the system. However, many of you expressed deep frustration at a lack of change despite past identification of systemic problems.
“How can this review make meaningful, long lasting change, particularly as those which have gone before it appear to have been unable to?”
2. How can we provide children with stability?
You told us about the pervasive impact of instability on children. Whether that be through instability of homes (often referred to as placements), relationships or workforce turnover.
“The best care I have seen is when a child and a social worker actually have a relationship. Time, training and resources needs to be put into these relationships… The amount of re-trauma I have seen as social workers and carers change so regularly is heartbreaking.”
“Every year, the Children’s Commissioner for England produces the ‘Stability Index’ for children in care. Every year, it reveals an enormous amount of instability in the lives of care-experienced children and young people. Which steps and policies are needed to provide greater stability for care-experienced children and young people?”
3. How can we support families to stay safely together?
Many of you raised the importance of working to resolve issues and strengthen families before problems escalate. This is especially important given the shifting proportions of funding being spent on care.
“How and why do we introduce often large numbers adults and professionals to the lives of children in receipt of children’s services and do we do this too often because we lack faith in those already involved (both friends and family AND professionals)? Could fewer professionals be better and could we make better use of (existing) family and friends?”
“How can we help a child, young person stay with their families whilst undertaking the necessary and vital assessments that afford us the opportunity to understand their issues, whilst not losing sight of the complexities to make the right decision without being too risk adverse.”
“How to get real, meaningful, positive, lasting relationships around families early so that we can prevent escalation of children into statutory service and all that results from that?”
4. What drives involvement in children’s social care and why are some groups more likely to enter care?
Many respondents raised the fact that some groups of children are more likely to enter care, with Black children and some other ethnic groups and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities frequently mentioned. Poverty as an underlying driver of child protection concerns was also raised again and again. The review will consider these issues fully.
“Why are there proportionately more black children in care?”
“Why do disabled children come to be looked after? There is a sub group of children who are looked after by virtue of being in residential provision but where parents share parental responsibility with their LA. The process and mechanics of this are often not clear. Our experience is that there is a ‘journey’ towards looked after that generally arises from needs not being recognised and met early enough so that difficulties escalate.”
5. How can we provide support for children that accounts for their needs and experiences?
Many of you made clear how important it is to consider the unique experiences and needs of children who require support from children’s services and get them the support they need. This includes support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, but also how we account for wider impacts of trauma, including mental health.
“How do we raise awareness of the damage adversity causes to the child, the family and society? What would it look like for the child, the family and society if we could prevent adversity? We know how to work with children to reverse the psychological damage caused by ACES, why are we not doing it? How do we break the cycle of generational trauma?”
What’s happens next
Advice shared with me and the team has already shaped so much of how the review has started. The reflections and summaries shared in this blog are by no means exhaustive but they should give you an understanding of the main themes. There were countless other areas and ideas shared with us that we will act upon which we haven’t done justice to here.
As the review now moves ahead we will be closing the Call For Advice on the 16th April.
I plan to set out a case for change in the summer, highlighting what most needs changing in children’s social care. This will reflect the themes we’ve taken from the Call For Advice, Call For Evidence, views of our Experts by Experience Board and early engagement work. This will give everyone the opportunity to understand the review’s thinking so far and tell us whether we have missed or misunderstood anything. We will continue consulting and gathering evidence as the review begins to develop solutions and recommendations.
* Analysis conducted has included a thematic analysis and also topic modelling. Topic Modelling is a form of natural language processing that uses statistical models to discover abstract ‘topics’ that occur within a collection of text. Please note that as the Call For Advice was open to all (e.g. not a representative sample) this was conducted informally by the team to help me develop a more holistic view of your responses.