Today we are publishing a summary of the more than 300 submissions we received in response to the Case for Change. We’re grateful for all of your submissions, your answers to the questions we posed and the ideas and challenges you provided.
Sharing this summary is part of the review’s ongoing commitment to an open dialogue through the review. A more cautious, conventional and static approach would have been to produce an interim report later into the review process. We hope that sharing our thinking early and publicly, inviting challenge and discussion and then sharing what we have heard back, will get us to better answers and recommendations at the end.
The feedback summary shares the overall messages we have heard from answers to questions in each chapter and we have highlighted where there is agreement as well as where views differ. The document also shares where people or organisations want to challenge how we have considered the evidence.
An area where we found a lot of agreement was on the need for children’s social care to have a clear purpose. A common thread throughout responses saw the purpose as keeping children safe, supporting them to reach their potential and working to enable children to stay with their family wherever possible. Many respondents felt that social care needed a much greater focus on prevention and support in order to achieve this purpose.
Many respondents thought our proposed definition of family help was useful and forms the right foundation for a shared collective understanding which will be beneficial for families and the sector. Many of you also made the important point that any definition needs to be accompanied by a clear sense of what support is available in practice to families and how family help would be delivered.
In some areas there was clear disagreement either with the view set out in the Case for Change or between respondents. For example, in our question around the role of community in supporting families, some respondents, like the LGA, felt that it is not the solely the responsibility of children’s social care to strengthen communities (falling instead to the wider local authority and local and national partners) while others, like New Local, felt that there is an opportunity for children’s social care services to support communities to build their own capacity.
The question of how we help families in partnership alongside protecting children from significant harm sparked a lot of debate, so much so that the chair of the review has posted a separate blog highlighting this as one of the main dilemmas facing the review.
Many of those working in the field were concerned about any move to separate the work of child protection from family help, rightly highlighting that both were on a continuum. Those with lived experience were more likely to share that the power and compulsion of the child protection process makes seeking and getting help from the same service harder. The review will continue to hold space for this debate and test opinions around what some of the answers to this dilemma might be.
Asking what we have missed or misunderstood offered people the opportunity to challenge us in areas where it was felt we were on the wrong path. Some respondents have argued that the review’s definitions of ‘statutory’ and ‘non-statutory’ spending are misleading. While open to misinterpretation we do not believe our definition was inaccurate. One suggestion was that we should use a ‘safeguarding’ and ‘non-safeguarding’ categorisation instead, although there are limitations with this categorisation too. We will take the feedback onboard and consider how best to describe this distinction in spending in future review publications.
Poverty and austerity were a focus for a number of responders and our recognition of poverty as a contributory causal factor in child abuse and neglect as well as our acknowledgment of cuts in spending on family help and wider support services was welcomed by many. However, some wanted the review to be more directly critical of the government for spending cuts and rising poverty or to attribute worsening outcomes in children’s social care to these factors. Even if the review did have the broader welfare system in its scope (we don’t) there would still be problems in children’s social care that need addressing, recognising as we must that services can either widen or narrow inequalities. Many of the problems described in the Case for Change were present in 2010 when spending levels were higher. Child welfare inequalities must be understood, accounted for and addressed and the review’s recommendations will have a focus on this.
Ofsted are a major actor in children’s social care and so when they, along with some others, queried our view that too many families are being unnecessarily investigated we of course had pause for thought. The growing number of section 47s which do not result in a child protection plan is a worrying trend, reflecting an increasingly adversarial approach that makes it harder for services to help families and build trust with parents in order to keep children safe.
We are working with Ofsted to interrogate the area of child protection investigations further – including whether inspections look equally for evidence of under and over investigation. The review accepts Ofsted’s position that 84,000 children had a child in need plan 45 days after the start of a section 47 enquiry. However, we have not seen evidence to suggest that a section 47 enquiry is the most appropriate mechanism for families to receive support under a child in need plan, or evidence to justify this volume of investigations or the rise over the last decade.
This is an emotive area and any querying of the steady rise in investigations can be countered by pointing to one of the dreadful situations of a child being significantly harmed. But this is not a simple either/or situation. We can be both too driven by investigation with some families while failing to protect some children. We highlighted both of these positions in the Case for Change (page 44).
With an area as broad as children’s social care it is of course inevitable that people will search for a mention of their particular area of interest and feel overlooked if the area is not covered in much depth. We didn’t seek to write an exhaustive account of every facet of the children’s social care system but we believe we acknowledged the most prominent issues raised with the review. We have sought to summarise the points you have helpfully highlighted that we have missed at the end of each chapter. An example of an area we should have devoted more time to in the Case for Change is the particular risks faced by Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) and migrant children. As with all of our omissions from the case for change, this is an area we will actively work harder on ahead of developing our recommendations.
Finally thank you again to everyone who made a submission. These contributions have widened our perspectives and added depth to the conversations we are holding in this phase of the review. Whether through our Bridge the Gap deliberative discussions with those with lived experience, our deep dives with local authorities or our roundtables with the children’s social care workforce – the influence of your input on our ongoing dialogue is informing the review for the better.
While the Case for Change allowed us to set out the problems as we saw them, this next stage of the review is about understanding the major drivers of these problems, considering the complex dilemmas in this work and starting to move towards recommendations. We hope you will continue to engage in the conversation. As your feedback demonstrates, these issues are hard and complex but we believe we can start to identify solutions together.