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Blog: SWU shares Article 39’s deep concern about the Children’s Social Care Review 2021

This is a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity for desperately needed change to the children’s social care system, so why is the government acting like it’s just another contract to award to their mates?

The Social Workers Union (SWU) wholeheartedly supports Article 39’s joint letter sent to the Secretary of State for Education regarding the Children’s Social Care Review 2021.

In this joint action, 27 organisations and over 100 individuals with substantial experience of children and families social work shared reasoned concerns regarding the independence of the Review’s chair, the short time period, and its very wide scope.

  • The Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto promised an independent review, and yet they appointed Frontline chief executive Josh MacAlister as its chair. MacAlister set up Frontline in 2013 and since then it has been wholly or mainly reliant on the £72 million of funding it has received from the Department for Education (DfE).
  • The chair has indicated on social media that he expects to complete a wholesale independent review of children’s social care in 12 to 15 months. This estimation is concerningly unrealistic, especially with the delays that can be expected from a global pandemic. To give a scope of the actual timescale required for an undertaking of this magnitude: the cross-government review of support for children with special educational needs was launched in September 2019 and is not expected to report until later this year (delayed partly due to COVID-19).
  • A refocusing of the current terms of reference – as outlined in Article 39's joint letter – could help achieve a review of the care system. This could carefully set in place structures and processes which can, over a realistic time period, facilitate the development of sound and credible recommendations.

Article 39 also noted that key groups and organisations championing the rights of children, young people and families, as well as social work organisations were not invited to the online launch of the review on 15 January. SWU and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) agree that it is crucial for those with lived experience of the care system to be supported in contributing to the care review and that their voices should be at the heart of the process.

The DfE stated during the launch of the Review that its aim is to “radically reform the system”. However, the Review’s current terms do not mention additional funding for services to children and families, and the DfE warned that its recommendations need to be “made following consideration of the key questions of sustainability and how social care funding, workforce and other resources can be used most effectively to change children’s lives and represent good value for money”. A budget for the review has not yet been agreed.

In the words of Article 39’s Director Carolyne Willow:

“We warmly welcome the review’s confirmation that the people who matter the most are children and young people themselves, and agree that fundamental change is required to ensure our country’s children’s social care system gives the best care, protection and support to children and their families.

However, we are very concerned about what the government has in store for children’s social care. Since 2016, it has made four serious attempts at dismantling the legal architecture of our child welfare system, and we fear this may be the start of yet another move to remove legal rights and duties and undermine the role of local authorities.”

We are all in agreement that this is an extremely vital and important undertaking – the DfE has rightly called this a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform systems and services”. And yet it does not look like this Review is being set up to make as big an impact as it could in the lives of England’s most vulnerable children.

SWU General Secretary John McGowan said:

“The Children's Social Care Review is a welcomed and much needed process but like most significant reviews, the issues are complex and this needs to be respected by the Government. A large part of the review’s credibility will be based on the independence of the reviewers – along with the review process from 'top down', the allocated time to achieve this, who is being consulted and how this is being managed.

In my view, the chair's appointment is not appropriate, and the time allocated for the completion of the review is just not enough time to offer a thorough and robust procedure. I had hoped that the chair of the review would be someone who could generate hope and inspiration but quite simply Josh MacAlister does not tick this box.

This is a ‘once-in-a-decade’ opportunity for a desperately needed change to the children’s social care system, so why is the Government acting like it is just another contract to award to their mates and not a review that is totally impartial? There needs to be clear evidence of communicating with young people to improve the care service that is provided to them. Overall, the review must seize the opportunity to put the views and experiences of children and young people at its centre.”