United for a better children's social care system

“We have momentum, there is a sense that things need to change. People in this room are going to be the decisive audience for keeping that momentum up and holding the government to account... We have to seize this moment to change course.”

Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care,

at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children family help meeting, Portcullis House, November 8 2022.

The children’s sector, statutory services and Parliamentarians have united to call for urgent social care reform and resourcing that prioritises early intervention and coproduction with children and families. The pleas were made at a packed meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, coordinated by the National Children’s Bureau.

Claire Coutinho MP, giving her first public speech in her new role as Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, told the assembled audience of practitioners, campaigners and people with lived experience of the social care system, that she was passionate about giving children and families the best possible start:

“I look forward to working with everyone in this room,” she said. “Please be assured of my commitment to this area and my ambition to do as much as we possibly can… This whole area wouldn’t exist without you and I really look forward to learning from you and seeing what we can do together.”

Claire Coutinho MP

Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing

Claire Coutinho MP, Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, speaks at the APPGC meeting on family help

In his keynote, Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, summarised his recommendations for strengthening early intervention:

  1. Where possible, family support should be locally-based and build on existing assets in the community;
  2. Family help is not just the job of social workers – it is a multi-agency exercise requiring close collaboration;
  3. Support should be well-resourced and evidenced; and
  4. There must be a resolution of the tension between the child welfare and child protection systems.

He said that without intervention now, the bill for children’s social care would rise by 50 per cent within a decade to £15bn a year while outcomes could worsen:

“Something major needs to change,” he concluded.  “We need to set a new direction that improves outcomes for more children and families, reduces long-term costs and crucially permanently shifts £1bn of government spending from care to help for families.”

Josh MacAlister, chair of the Independent Review of Children's Social Care

The event was co-hosted by Tim Loughton MP and Baroness Tyler, who as chairs of the APPGC have held crucial inquiries into rising social care thresholds and championed the rights of children to be heard in Parliament.

Introduced by Professor Julie Anderson from the University of Kent, Experts by Experience from NCB’s Living Assessments programme played a crucial role in proceedings, setting out what early intervention means to them.

“For family help to be effective, we need investment in social housing, the benefits system and equitable healthcare,” 14-year-old Udi told the audience. “Too many families – particularly those with disabled children - fall through the cracks in the system. Every family deserves the right help at the right time in the right place.”

Udi also articulately highlighted the importance of a culturally diverse and culturally sensitive social care workforce in delivering family help objectives.

Experts by Experience at the APPGC event in November 2022

Claire is a care experienced young person and thanked NCB for giving her and other experts-by-experience multiple opportunities to talk directly to those in positions of power and influence.

“We hope our voices will continue to be heard,” she said. “Let’s work together to get this right.”

And Jenny, a single parent of two teenage boys, one of whom has Down’s syndrome, talked about the impact that organised activities and support in her local community and continuity of social care has had on her and her family.

“Unfortunately, these services aren’t available to everybody,” she said. “We want all parents to be able to have a positive experience.”

An outstanding panel was assembled at the APPGC event on family help

An outstanding panel call for action

Calls for collaboration and collective action to deliver change to improve the outcomes for all children, young people and their families were echoed by the outstanding panel.

“There is an appetite for change among Directors of Children’s Services across the country,” said Steve Crocker OBE, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. “There are lots of promising ideas and initiatives and what we need to do is test and try those out and make sure they work.”

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner, said that any reform of the system had to take a joined-up approach and consider the needs of children with SEND, physical and mental health.

“When people need to turn to children’s social care services, they want them to be familial, relational, consistent, enduring and local,” she said. “We have a once in a generation opportunity – we must not waste it and ask for too little.”

Helen Hayes MP, shadow Children’s Minister, said using children and childhood should be the lens through which all policymaking was viewed. She said although there was cross-party consensus about much of what needed to change, the Labour party would continue to put pressure on the government to move forward with reforms as soon as possible.

“This is an urgent task, children are growing up under a failing system. We have been told we will have a response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care by the end of this year and we will hold the government to account on that.”

Helen Hayes MP

Shadow Children's Minister

Indra Morris, Director General of the Department for Education, accepted the challenge set by the NCB to make connections across all the reviews and pieces of work in this area, but cautioned that any reforms to social care should keep child protection front of mind.

“It’s important not to lose sight of child protection issues when we’re focused on family help – we owe to the children who have no voice,” she said.

Amanda Spielman, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Ofsted, supported the call for joined-up thinking and action.

“We need careful planning to take us from the levels of expertise we have at the moment to where we need it to be,” she said. “A multi-agency approach is essential, joining up all the different pieces of the system. There’s a huge opportunity in front of us - let’s make it work.”