Shake-up of social care to offer children ‘love and stability’
Families with vulnerable youngsters will be given extra support before they reach crisis point under a sweeping shake-up of children’s social care.
The plan, which follows criticism of the safeguarding system in the wake of the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, will see early interventions for families with addiction, domestic abuse or mental health problems to help them stay together where possible.
But campaigners argued that the £200 million over two years for the plan in England fell far short of what was required and called for a greater focus on the issue at the heart of government.
The children’s social care implementation strategy will see more support for families and, where children cannot remain at home, an emphasis on “family-like” placements.
But where a child is at risk of harm, experts will intervene swiftly. A new child protection lead practitioner role will be created, with advanced, specialist training and the ability to work closely with other services such as the police.
The programme of early help and intervention for families will start in 12 local authorities, backed by £45 million, to develop a model that can then be shared more widely.
The Government hopes “welcoming and non-judgmental” support will aid families to get the help they need to overcome issues and prevent problems from escalating.
Kinship care, where a child is placed with a relative or close family friend, will be prioritised with £9 million for extra training and support.
The Government will also explore the case for changes including a new financial allowance and additional workplace entitlements for kinship carers.
Foster carers will also see an above-inflation increase in their allowance to reflect the additional costs of looking after a child and £25 million over two years will be invested in a recruitment and retention programme.
In other measures:
– A £30 million investment in “family finding, befriending and mentoring” programmes is aimed at transforming the experience of children in care and care leavers.
– The Government will increase the leaving care allowance from £2,000 to £3,000 from April to help them set up home independently, while for those undertaking apprenticeships there will be an increase to the bursary available from £1,000 to £3,000.
– Local authorities will be supported to recruit up to 500 new child and family social worker apprentices.
– A new children’s social care national framework and dashboard will set outcomes for local authorities across England.
The shake-up of children’s social care follows a series of inquiries into the system, including the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel review which followed the fatal abuses suffered by Arthur, six, and Star, 16 months.
Arthur was murdered in June 2020 by his stepmother Emma Tustin at their home in Solihull, West Midlands. His father Thomas Hughes, 29, was found guilty of his son’s manslaughter.
Star was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in September 2020. Star’s mother Frankie Smith, 20, was found guilty of causing or allowing the youngster’s death.
Minister for children, families and wellbeing Claire Coutinho said: “Children in care deserve the same love and stability as everyone else.
“Yet we’ve seen from the two tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson that more needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable children.”
Charities and campaigners urged the Government to go further to reform the system.
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children CEO Sir Peter Wanless said: “There is a vision for reform, a focus on stable and loving homes and a real intent to finally get things right for vulnerable children and families.
“At the same time we also need a commitment for substantial, national investment and a reform programme delivered at greater pace.”
Sir Peter called for the creation of a Cabinet-level minister for children to provide “strong leadership” within government to address problems in the “creaking and under-resourced system”.
Barnardo’s CEO Lynn Perry welcomed the proposals but added “we are concerned that the £200 million funding pledged is too little to help address the current crisis in children’s social care”.
She said: “Many local authorities are now at breaking point as they struggle with years of reduced funding alongside increased demand due to Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.
“Without urgent and significant investment, we simply will not be able to achieve the changes children need.”
James Jamieson, Tory chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Much of this strategy is positive, including its focus on earlier help, support that builds on the strengths within a child’s wider family network, and greater ambition for children in care and care leavers, which are all areas where we can make an enormous difference.”
But “the funding announced, while helpful, falls short of addressing the £1.6 billion shortfall – estimated prior to inflation – required each year simply to maintain current service levels”.
Jacqueline Cassidy, director of practice at The Fostering Network, said: “We welcome this announcement which comes at a vital time. Over the past year we have lost more foster carers than we have gained.
“This will help foster carers to better meet the needs of the children they look after.”
Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza welcomed the review’s focus on “strong, caring relationships” and said: “We should be striving for excellence, as we have done with schools, to get children’s social care in every area of the country rated good or outstanding.
“Failure in this area means children are unsafe, so we cannot lose sight of this goal.”
Helen Hayes, Labour’s shadow children’s minister, said: “The Conservatives’ weak and unambitious strategy falls way short of the ‘total reset’ of children’s social care called for by the independent review.
“For more than a decade the Conservatives have been failing the most vulnerable children by stripping away vital early help services, while the need for crisis interventions has rocketed.”