Josh MacAlister speech to National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC) 26 November 2021

Improving children’s lives: current thinking from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

Thank you Theresa for your introduction and for the opportunity to speak today. And thanks to everyone from councils across the country who have contributed to the review so far. 

We are nine months into the review and we have heard so many inspiring stories of councils finding innovative and creative ways to help and support families and children. 

From submissions to our call for advice, call for evidence and feedback to our Case for Change we are incredibly grateful to everyone who has taken the time to contribute to the review. 

DEEP DIVES

Last week we visited Darlington, the last of our ‘deep dive’ visits to local areas. We selected ten areas to conduct our deep dives, and we’re really grateful to the local authorities in each area for agreeing to open their doors, share their successes as well as their challenges and have really frank and honest conversations with the review team. 

You all know that Councils have a lot on their plate, constrained budgets, ofsted inspections not to mention keeping the show on the road while the impact of covid is still being felt. So please indulge me while I give a small shout out to all ten. 

To North Lincolnshire thank you for showing us that having a clear framework and vision of working with the whole family at every stage of children’s services intervention can keep children safe outside of care and ensure they have important relationships with family members.

To Camden, who are at the forefront of working with children and families to co-design family help that comes from and is delivered in people’s communities, we found your approach and innovations inspiring. 

To the Barrow team in Cumbria County Council showed us the importance of having a really deep understanding of your local community when supporting children and families and the potential of working with voluntary initiatives like Love Barrow. 

In Darlington we saw how their restorative practice model and improved front door had helped improve the service for children and families, earning well deserved great feedback from their partners.   

Southampton who showed us the importance of building a confident and committed leadership team to deliver major improvement and transformation.  

All councils will know the difficult work of managing and holding risk. Enfield showed how a local authority can create a no-blame learning culture. 

We’ve met with over a thousand people from the children’s social care workforce and all our visits have allowed us to meet many more frontline staff – our visit to Peterborough was particularly useful in showing the benefits of using multi-disciplinary teams to support families through the family safeguarding model . 

Nottinghamshire was a really great example of how local authorities can work together to provide good homes for children by recruiting adopters and commissioning foster and residential homes. 

Wolverhampton was the first area we visited. One of the standout parts of their work was their approach to working with teenagers facing harms outside of the home. Their Power2 service is a multi-disciplinary team that carries out intensive relationship-based and trauma-informed work for young people up until the age of 25.    

And last but not least our work with Bath and North East Somerset gave us a great demonstration of excellent partnership working in action, including innovative pooled budgets to enable joint commissioning of services for children with complex needs. 

Thank you to all ten local authorities for opening your doors and being so generous with your time. We have learned a lot and I know that the connections that the team have made during these visits will serve us well when we come to write recommendations and need a sounding board to test ideas. 

PHASES / CALL FOR IDEAS 

I’m thinking of this review in four distinct phases – diagnosis, where we considered the problem, and set it out in the Case for Change. Discovery, where we probed these problems, listened to your feedback and talked to you – through the local area deep dives as well as hundreds of meetings and events with care experienced people and the children’s social care workforce. 

We are now in the Development stage – the penultimate stage before we move to Delivery and I put pen to paper and write my recommendations. 

Between now and the end of the year we are holding an open Call for Ideas.  This is your opportunity to share your ideas for change. I know innovation and creativity is more likely to spring from local areas than from on high but we rely on you telling us about your successes, so please take the opportunity to contribute before the 15th December. 

We don’t need detailed proposals- some of the best ideas are expressed in just a few hundreds words, just as great business proposals can be sketched on the back of an envelope or pitched in the time it takes to travel in a lift.

THEMES 

From January through to Spring we will work through all that we have heard during the review and start to work on recommendations. While I’m not sharing recommendations today, I can outline a few of the themes we are working on. I hope this will prompt some ideas with you and encourage contributions on these themes to our call for ideas. 

Family help – I know we all understand that spending money up front on support, help and prevention can ensure fewer families reach the crisis point where children’s social care is needed. I also know councils are struggling to find capacity in finances to provide these services. If you are investing in family help or innovating new services please share any findings with the review team. 

Alternatives to care – There are some families where even with the best support in the world they will not be able to provide a safe and loving place for their children. For these children we are asking if there are alternatives to care. For too many children care does not provide the best start – and can leave them as young people cut off from the support networks and relationships we all need to thrive. 

Family, friends and support networks in local communities can be the best place to start for children who can’t stay with parents, because relationships already exist, and because children and young people can remain in the classrooms, clubs and communities that they know. 

I know many of you have recognised that the growing number of children in care is unsustainable and are looking at the big picture. We are talking to kinship carers and hearing about family group conferences and lifelong links. If you have found ways to keep children and young people rooted in their communities or have alternatives to care that you would like to share we would love to hear from you. 

Relationships mean everything – part of my focus on family help stems from the emphasis I’m placing on relationships and how important it is that children and young people in care have a group of loving and supportive adults – a tribe if your will – around them. 

All the questions in children’s social care which rightly make us uncomfortable – because we would not apply them to our own children –  around a care cliff edge, staying on or aging out of care, do not apply when we support families or kinship carers to support and care for children. That’s why I have placed such an emphasis on relationships throughout this review – care is for childhood while a relationship is for life.

On homes for children in care, we are determined to land on recommendations which ensure we have the right homes in the right places – something which is not always the case today. You will know the Competitions and Markets Authority are undertaking a study in the so-called ‘market’ in children’s social care. You will also all no doubt have examples to share where this ‘market’ is not working. I will be considering the final report from the CMA in March and I hope it helps us to deliver what is right for children and young people. 

Beyond the question of supply and cost I want to consider what we are hoping to achieve for children when we place them in residential homes. Children’s homes must have a clear purpose beyond simply containment – they should be spaces for healing, care and a path back to a family home – to help children and young people recover from an adverse start in life. If you are doing children’s homes differently in your area please let us know. 

And finally I want to reassure you that I understand the pressure that finances put on your work. That it’s demanding to think creatively and do things differently when you are in a spiral of ever rising costs and ever more children requiring support. My recommendations will not only set out what needs to change for children and families but also where we need to invest to realise that change. I have made consistently clear that there is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more on  children’s social care – our shared challenge is that these resources must be linked to reforms which achieve long term sustainability and better outcomes. 

COSTINGS  

I do not need to tell you all about the poor outcomes children who need a social worker too often go on to experience. In health, wellbeing, education and employment the story is all too familiar. An adverse start in life means children start with shaky foundations and the road they travel in life can be much harder and more challenging than their peers. Children who need a social worker are sadly more likely to go on to experience homelessness, abuse alcohol, spend time in prison and have shorter lives. 

The toll of early adversity, loss and trauma for children who have social care involvement is substantial and is borne acutely over a lifetime by children themselves. The moral case for change is indisputable. 

Today we are publishing a report which we hope adds weight to the case for changing children’s social care, building on the moral case and adding hard headed economic analysis. 

The social cost for each child that needs a social worker is estimated at £14,000 a year and an average of £720,000 over their lifetime. 

Applied to those of all ages who have ever needed a social worker as a child, this totals  an eye watering £23 billion a year.

Alongside the social costs we have also estimated  how much is spent on children’s social care and associated public services. Spending is almost 25% higher than the £10.5 billion we know local authorities spend in this area. An additional £1.3 billion is spent on other public services provided to children who need a social worker and £1.2 billion is spent by central and local government on the care proceedings process itself. 

CLOSE 

Thanks again for the opportunity to speak to you all today. I hope this brief run through of the issues the review is considering will allow you to reflect on your own challenges and success and share your innovations with us. 

I hope you will consider contributing to the review through our Call for Ideas as we move towards making recommendations.

And I hope that next spring you will recognise a role for yourself and your council in the vision we set out for children’s social care and help to build a system that delivers for the children and young people who need change most. 

 

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