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Urgent action is needed to fix failing children’s social care

(Alamy)

4 min read

On 27 February, MPs on the Education Select Committee began hearing oral evidence as part of their enquiry into children’s social care.

As chief executive of Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers, I was their first witness, but I’m sure I will not be the last to paint a bleak picture of what is happening to children in care. 

MPs will have heard time and again that children’s social care is creaking at the seams – with rising demand and spiraling costs pushing council finances over the brink, at the same time as eye- watering profits are being made by some private providers. And it won't just be those in charities sounding the alarm, local government, the Competition and Markets Authority, the House magazine’s own investigation last month and indeed those working at the coalface and young people themselves, are all clear that the system is just not working as it should.  

Precious little has changed for children in care and young care leavers and indeed some metrics are getting worse

The reality for children in care is often desperate. There are simply not enough places for children to live – not enough foster carers nor places in residential care, and even fewer for those with more complex needs. For children this means instability – with many moved from home to home, sometimes multiple times per year and often with little or no notice.

Our own research, as part of our #GoneTooFar campaign, found growing numbers of children placed far away from their local area – and everything and everyone they know – disrupting their education, moving them away from friends and, heartbreakingly, often separating them from brothers and sisters. Then when they turn 18, or sometimes even younger, they then face a “care cliff” of support falling away and an expectation that they will become independent overnight. Little wonder that so many end up isolated and alone, struggling with poor mental health, unable to find work, facing homelessness, or worse.  

The government recognises the many challenges facing the system and we were delighted when they commissioned an Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. The review, billed as a once in a generation opportunity to reset the system, set out a host of reforms and called for urgent investment of £2.6bn. In response, the government published Stable Homes, Built on Love. Few would argue with its premise to put “love, relationships and a stable home at the heart of being a child in care” but sadly the action did not meet the ambition and, at a mere £200m, neither did the investment.  

In truth, precious little has changed for children in care and young care leavers and indeed some metrics are getting worse – the number of young people being placed far from their home area or those facing homelessness, for example. 

But it doesn't need to be like this. At Become, we see young people doing amazing things every day, despite the many hurdles they have to clear. Children in care have hopes and dreams and promise, just like all children, they just face significantly bigger barriers to realising them – and too many simply don't receive the love and care they need to flourish. 

So why isn't there more public outcry? The reality is that whilst adult social care will touch the lives of most of us in some way at some point, the same is not true for children’s social care. Although there are more children in care than ever before, it is not something that most people will have direct experience of, which means there is less public debate and discussion and less pressure on politicians to act.

That’s why this select committee enquiry matters. That's why listening to the voices of care-experienced children and young people is so important, and why moments like Samantha Morton’s BAFTA acceptance speech last month or Fatima Whitbread’s at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in December mean so much. We need to raise awareness. We need more people, more politicians to care.

At the end of the day, the government is the corporate parent for the 84,000 children currently in care. The buck stops there. And the absolute litmus test should be - would the current system be good enough for your own children? I think we all know the answer to that.  

 

Katharine Sacks-Jones, chief executive of Become charity

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