Children’s social care review must address a decade of chronic underfunding
Many are being failed by a system which does not provide the support and stability they need to thrive, writes Steve McCabe MP. | PA Images
The APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers will explore how the care system is experienced by young people and seek to understand where solutions can be rooted in local communities.
Last week, the government launched its wide-ranging review of children’s social care, promising to radically reform the system and raise the bar for vulnerable children across the country.
The announcement comes over 400 days after a 2019 manifesto pledge to review the children’s care system and just under a year after the culmination of a three-year ‘root and branch’ independent care review in Scotland.
Such a commitment is long overdue.
The review’s chair, Josh MacAlister, has pledged to “listen deeply and think boldly”. Ambitious reform in children’s social care is essential to address pressing challenges including the rising number of children in care, the impact of poverty and inequality on involvement with children’s services, and the cliff edge in support experienced by young adults leaving care.
There are nearly 400,000 children in need and over 80,000 children in care in England. Many are being failed by a system which does not provide the support and stability they need to thrive. We know there are thousands of dedicated social care professionals who are also frustrated with a system that too often lets down the children and young people it exists to care for.
These problems aren’t inevitable. We know that some families manage to get the help they need to navigate difficult times. We know that some children in care find the loving, nurturing relationships they deserve. However, these experiences must become the norm rather than the exception.
It’s essential the review listens closely to and involves people with lived experience of children’s social care
To deliver meaningful change, the review must seek to understand the impact of the government’s chronic underfunding of children’s services over the past ten years. The Local Government Association (LGA) reports that children’s services are facing a £2 billion funding gap this year. The impact of cuts to public services cannot be disentangled from the rising numbers of children and families requiring additional help – a problem likely to be further exacerbated by the pandemic.
It’s essential the review listens closely to and involves people with lived experience of children’s social care, who have substantial expertise about what needs to change and what the solutions are required.
This was made clear in a joint letter sent to the Secretary of State for Education last year, coordinated by Become as the national charity for children in care and care leavers and signed by 26 other children’s rights organisations. The letter asked for a genuinely independent review with care-experienced people “meaningfully included and represented at all levels of the review’s lifecycle”.
The review’s terms of reference make an early commitment, but the proof will be in how the process of listening, engagement and power-sharing is delivered in practice – hopefully with transparency, integrity, and an openness to constructive challenge.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, I’m optimistic about how our new inquiry can support the review, in a constructive, cross-party way.
We will soon launch our Spotlight inquiry, aiming to shine a light on common issues and innovative practice found across the country. Through an accessible call for evidence and a series of regional sessions hosted by local MPs, we will explore how the care system is experienced by young people in each region and seek to understand where solutions can be rooted in local communities. We hope to hear from young care-experienced people, professionals and local charities and community groups.
At the end of this process, the insights and experiences of those involved in children’s social care – most crucially, children and young people with lived experience – must be heard and acted upon by government to deliver real, lasting change.
This “once-in-a-generation opportunity” must remain exactly that.
Steve McCabe is the MP for Birmingham Selly Oak and Chairs the APPG for Looked-after Children and Care Leavers.