As the review draws to a close we wanted to give the final word to the Expert by Experience board who have contributed so much over the past 15 months and who continue to campaign for change.
The text below originally appeared as the Expert by Experience foreword to the final report. Their call to ‘step up and be the change that our families and young people need’ inspired our call for people to step up for children which has been shared by tens of thousands of people. We hope their words inspire you as they did us.
This review is the most wide ranging rethink of children’s social care in more than a generation.
As one of its first actions after launch, the review team took the unusual step of assembling an ‘Experts by Experience’ Board. This brought together a group of individuals with a diverse range of perspectives and experiences of children’s social care. Parents whose children have been adopted, foster carers, adults raised in the care system, young people still navigating their way through care, adopters, kinship carers – with many of us in more than one of these roles.
But really we are nothing more than fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters and grandparents. Just like you.
And it was our job to guide the review team, to hold them to account, to help them get the voices and perspectives of those who know too well how it feels when family pain intersects with a bureaucratic and unfeeling system.
The terms of reference were clear that our role didn’t include having the final say over the recommendations. At times this was challenging. We wondered how meaningful our involvement was. Were we there as a smokescreen? To give credibility to a process that had already decided what it was going to do? As Experts by Experience, we have all experienced trauma and loss in our families, and then again through our interactions with the children’s social care system that’s supposed to help us, which left many of us with very real concerns about the intentions of anyone in an official role. But the chance of making long lasting systemic change could not be missed. It was up to us to resolve our own experiences, and focus all of our attention on the families and children who will come after us. They were our motivation. Many of us are involved in children’s social care in some way, some directly employed, others in charity roles. But working with the review wasn’t about any of that. It was about ensuring that people don’t have to go through what we went through. So, despite our initial misgivings we did our best to support the review team in their work.
Over the course of 13 months we met together ten times, chaired participation events, read numerous documents, contributed to various roundtables on specific subjects, among many other things. We made sure the review team had access to the wide range of care experienced individuals and groups we had contact with. It was important for people’s stories to be heard and validated. We bombarded the team with information, advice, suggestions and demands for change. And we challenged the review to think harder about the intersection between poverty, deprivation and children’s social care involvement. We saw them shift their thinking on some key issues and knew we were being listened to.
On one windy March day we gathered with the review team in a London hotel to see, at long last, the draft recommendations. Watching everyone quietly read the report, imagining how their own experience would have been if those changes had already been made, was powerful for all of us. We could see our influence, and those of the families we spoke to, in the recommendations and while we could see where the review could have gone further, we are proud to champion what it has done.
If the changes are implemented, more families will be helped and more young people will be loved and supported to reach a happy and healthy adulthood. We are over the moon that the review is recommending that help for families moves back into communities, moving us closer to a ‘system’ that is more caring and more connected. By recommending that care experience is made a Protected Characteristic under equalities legislation, we’ll see outcomes drastically improve. A focus on ensuring young people leaving care have at least two loving relationships to support them, will help us reimagine leaving care as a time of ‘interdependence’, rather than ‘independence’. By embedding a feedback loop within the system, it will be able to listen, learn and adapt. No more should we have young people battling the same bureaucratic nonsense that the young people of 30 years ago were also dealing with. No more Serious Case Reviews that point out the same flaws that we all already know about, again and again. This review marks a pivotal moment in the history of children’s social care. This is our chance to reshape the system by placing relationships front and centre.
But, this report is only part of the story. It cannot achieve the change our families, children and young people need on its own. There is more to do. We need to keep momentum in raising awareness of the issues for care experienced people, and we need to keep campaigning for ongoing improvements. So that is our challenge for you. Don’t read this report to find out just what changes the system will make. You also need to ask yourself that question.
Will you step up and be the change that our families and young people need?
The Experts by Experience Board