It is helpful to acknowledge the multi-agency nature of child protection work. By including this as one of the pillars, we hope to see more done to hold partners to account, for example ensuring that children and families can access appropriate mental health services where this is key to keeping them safe and well. There is no reference within these pillars to the importance of properly resourcing the system.
Overall, to what extent do you agree the six proposed pillars are the right ones on which to base our reforms for children’s social care?
We support the ambition to ensure children, young people and their families receive the right support at the right time, both to improve their outcomes and prevent unnecessary escalation of challenges, and to reduce the need for more intensive interventions as far as possible. We also agree that children should be supported to live with their wider family networks if they cannot live with birth parents, and where that is not possible, children should live in living homes that support them both now and into the future.
It is correct that every child should have a valued, supported and highlight skilled social worker where they need one, but we think this pillar should go further to recognise the enormous contribution of the wider workforce. Social workers must be properly valued, however both they and children should also be supported by a wider team including early help practitioners, health visitors, mental health practitioners and others, ensuring that children get the most appropriate support for their needs. This should also read across to the SEND and AP Improvement Plan, recognising that children receiving support from children’s social care are more likely to have SEN than their peers, therefore access to specialist staff including educational psychologists and SEN case officers is essential to help them thrive.
It is helpful to acknowledge the multi-agency nature of child protection work. By including this as one of the pillars, we hope to see more done to hold partners to account, for example ensuring that children and families can access appropriate mental health services where this is key to keeping them safe and well.
There is no reference within these pillars to the importance of properly resourcing the system. The children’s social care system is made up of thousands of highly dedicated individuals who are ambitious for children and families and want to see reform succeed; however without adequate funding, that ambition and these pillars cannot fully reform a system that is already struggling to cope.
What more can be done by government, local authorities and service providers to make sure that disabled children and young people can access the right types of help and support?
The children’s social care implementation plan and the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) improvement plan will need to be implemented carefully alongside each other to ensure that disabled children and young people receive the support they need from the right services at the right time. Our full response to the SEND and AP improvement plan should be read alongside this response.
The LGA recently commissioned Alma Economics to carry out a review of existing literature, along with a short series of interviews, identifying challenges around access to social care services for people with lifelong disabilities. This research identified a range of areas where improvements could be made to ensure that disabled children and young people can access the right types of help and support including:
- Access to services – the report notes a range of challenges with regard to access to services which have been exacerbated by insufficient funding, including a lack of choice of services in rural areas or for particular types of need and a lack of short break beds.
- Ensuring access to services that meet both practical and emotional needs, and support people’s individual identities including cultural needs, sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Workforce – a lack of staff can lead to a lack of choice in services, as well as inconsistency of support workers for service users which impacts upon the ability to build trusting relationships. Workers including social workers can find themselves with less time to spend with children, young people and their families, while support to transition between children’s and adult social care can be more difficult to manage where staff have limited time and resources. Training of all staff working with children and young people is also key to ensuring they receive the right support.
- Integrated services – a lack of join up across services and poor data sharing can cause challenges in ensuring children and young people receive the services they need, as well as requiring them and their families to repeatedly tell their story.
- Choice and autonomy – service users described wishing to have their voices heard in the design of care packages.
- Communication – inconsistent communications, along with difficulty in finding out about available support, were both highlighted as areas that caused challenges for service users.
- Support for families – in the majority of cases, families are the primary carers for disabled children and young people, and it is important to ensure that they receive the support they need to provide that care to the best of their abilities. This can include flexibility in financial support, such as enabling a family to pay a cleaner or pay for a nursery space for a sibling.
Many of these issues can in part be tackled through work across children’s social care, such as expanding the workforce, re-investing in family help that is led by local needs-assessments and improving data-sharing; however, these all need to be adequately funded to be successful. For children with SEND, the SEND and AP improvement plan acknowledges that implementing reforms will take several years and while the additional high needs funding that has been made available via the ‘safety valve’ and ‘Delivering Better Value in SEND’ programmes is welcome, these programmes do not address the fundamental cost and demand issues that are driving more councils into deficit and threaten the future financial viability of local government. Without sufficient investment in SEND and children’s social care services, local authorities will struggle to meet the needs of disabled children and young people.
We encourage the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to work together to consider how health and social care services locally, driven by a shared national ambition, can ensure access to the right services for children and young people. This may include access to shared funding across health and social care to deliver integrated services. We are concerned that the SEND and AP improvement plan does not include proposals to give councils additional powers to be able to lead SEND systems effectively. We do not believe it would be possible or desirable for the DfE or DHSC to build the capacity and expertise to hold partners to account in the detail needed for co-operation on both developing and delivering the local SEND plans. Councils, education settings and Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) must instead be accountable to each other, not Whitehall.
We welcome the Law Commission review of legislation for disabled children as this is currently very complex. It is vital that this considers the interaction of legislation for disabled children with that for disabled adults, recognising that this can either enhance or add complexity where people transition from children to adult services.
Children with disabilities should be able to attend the best education settings for their needs, therefore improving levels of mainstream inclusion will be crucial. We therefore welcome the proposal to “underpin the (national) standards with legislation for education at the earliest opportunity to facilitate intervention in education settings if standards are not met” set out in the SEND and AP improvement plan. The introduction of these intervention powers will be crucial in impressing on all mainstream settings, including in the early years, the need to take an inclusive approach, which will in turn reduce the use of special schools and independent, non-maintained special schools and relieve pressure on council high needs budgets, as well as improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND. To ensure action is taken quickly where poor practice is identified, these powers should however sit with councils and not the DfE. It is also vital that the legislation needed to introduce these powers is brought forward at the earliest opportunity. With the recently announced extension of funded early entitlements for children in working families, it will be vital to ensure that these entitlements are fully funded so that disabled children and their families can access early years places that meet their needs.
The needs of disabled children and their families must be explicitly considered in the Families First for Children pilots, including ensuring that families do not have to access support via safeguarding routes.
To what extent are you supportive of the proposal for a system that brings together targeted early help and child in need into a single Family Help Service in local areas?
While we recognise that fewer thresholds are likely to lead to a better experience for children and families, which we welcome, it is unclear at this stage how the system will work in practice and whether there will be any unintended consequences. For this reason we support the use of pathfinders to assess how the changes will work in practice, though we believe these should be pilots rather than pathfinders. If the changes are found to not improve outcomes for children, or to make it more difficult for families to access help, it is important to have the option to step back from the reforms.
What are the top three features of early help that make it a supportive service for families?
It would be useful to take an evidence-based approach to answering this question. An organisation such as the What Works Centre for Early Intervention and Children’s Social Care may be able to identify from evaluations of early help programmes which aspects of services lead to success.
In your view, how can we make a success of embedding a "family first" culture?
The consultation document highlights the use of Family Network Support Plans and family group decision-making as key elements in prioritising family-led solutions. Some of our member councils have highlighted to us the challenge in continuing to deliver family group decision-making and other interventions in a context of increasing demand and long-term funding pressures. To embed a family first culture, teams will need to be able to access and offer the right interventions, and be reassured that this is a long-term approach rather than a time-limited intervention.
Ofsted will have an important role to play in enabling councils to embed a family first culture. Teams will need to be reassured that Ofsted is open to support being delivered in different ways if that is what is best for a family, while inspection can helpfully support a shift in practice to focus on a “family first” approach.
In 2016 the LGA commissioned Isos Partnership to carry out research into improvement in children’s social care. The report, Action research into improvement in local children's services, outlined the importance of culture and offered lessons on how to shape this, including “developing the long-term strategic direction, a clear approach to delivering high-quality frontline practice, workforce development, and set of organisational values and behaviour.” The report also emphasises the importance of ensuring staff feel trusted and supported in what are often high stakes roles that expose them to risks; ensuring staff feel safe in their roles will support in the embedding of a “family first” culture.
In 2022 Isos Partnership carried out a further study for the LGA considering structural change in children’s social care. This emphasised that in any change programme, leadership and vision are key. It will be important for the DfE to clearly articulate its vision for a “family first” culture, including through the National Framework, and to ensure that local leaders have the flexibility to translate this into a vision that makes sense in place. Communication, engagement and co-production are also important building blocks of culture.
These are lessons that should be considered by both central and local government in a holistic way; for example, DfE and children’s social care can work towards a family first culture, however this must also be supported by local and national approaches to issues such as housing and welfare that have a significant impact on families’ ability to parent well.
In your view, what would be the most helpful forms of support that could be provided to a family network, in order to enable them to step in to provide care for a child?
The most helpful form of support for a family network will be the support that meets their individual needs, and it must be able to change over time. Councils and those working with families must therefore be able to offer flexibility in support, recognising that for some families this will be a one-time intervention and for others it may be long-term.
Research by the charity Kinship outlines a range of support that kinship carers have stated would be helpful:
- Support to diagnose and meet children’s health, educational and behavioural support needs
- Financial support
- Help to convert homes to add an additional bedroom
- Information about being a kinship carer and where to access support including peer support
- Access to the same training offer as that available to foster carers
- Kinship leave (similar to adoption leave) to enable time and space to support children to settle in
To what extent are you supportive of the working definition of kinship care?
Overall, to what extent do you agree that the 6 key missions outlined are the right ones to address the challenges in the system?
We share the Government’s vision that all children who need to come into care should have stable, loving homes close to their communities, and that we must be ambitious for these children both now and for their futures.
We broadly agree that these missions focus on the right areas to help to achieve this. However we are not convinced that the detail sitting beneath the missions goes far enough, nor the resources available for delivery as outlined elsewhere in this response. This will limit the ability of councils, their partners and central government to deliver on these missions.
What support is needed to set up and make a success of Regional Care Cooperatives?
Important lessons can be learnt from the establishment of Regional Adoption Agencies, including in the “evaluation of regional adoption agencies: managing culture change” report. This includes the importance of clarity on structures and staff roles and keeping the rationale for regionalisation at the forefront of the change process. Staff from all councils involved need to be fully engaged in the process, including to establish a new vision, to feel that all councils are contributing to the new model and to work through issues around bringing together local authorities with differing needs and performance records.
The LGA commissioned Isos Partnership to explore lessons learnt by councils that have undertaken large-scale structural change of children’s services. This identified nine key enablers of structural change that mitigate risk and deliver sustainable improvements in outcomes for children, young people and families:
- Longevity – a long-term commitment to a particular structural model and the time to see changes through.
- Political impetus – strong political backing to and guiding of the change process.
- Leadership and vision – a clear rationale for change and articulation of the difference this will achieve for children and families. Hands-on, visible leaders who are able and willing to listen, and stability of leadership.
- Communications – the ability to “tell the story” and use narratives of individual children and families to answer the question “why are we doing this.” Quick feedback loops and clear lines of delegation and responsibility.
- Engagement and co-production – co-designing the structural design with communities, staff and partners.
- Culture and staff stability – embedding a positive change in culture and the behaviours associated with that. Celebrating good practice and creating a culture of shared responsibility, capitalising on the new “brand” of the organisation and maximising opportunities for shared learning and career development. Getting the basics right in terms of HR and TUPE.
- Governance and accountability – clarity of desired outcomes and good quality, accurate data. Avoiding over-governance.
- Detailed planning and dedicated resources – strong project and programme management, a logical and widely communicated plan backed up by excellent HR, finance and legal resources with a strong understanding of children’s services.
- IT and management information – the correct IT platform for the service and time to train all staff to use this.
The research also identified five design principles:
- Operating as an integrated whole – strong integration across services for children including early help, social care, inclusion, education and youth services to best support children and young people.
- Engagement with local communities – the importance of “place” and a clear understanding of places and localities. The right dialogue between children’s services and local communities.
- Engaging partners – supporting partners to engage in a meaningful way with regular touchpoints.
- Relationships across local government – recognising the importance of other council services in supporting children and young people, and that the whole council is a corporate parent. The relationship between children’s services and elected members ensuring local democratic legitimacy.
- Quality of practice – a unified practice model, and strong quality assurance and audit.
RCCs will need to have sufficient resource to not only procure placements and manage contracts, but to engage with and shape the market. This will include understanding different needs across different local authority areas and responding appropriately, and building strong relationships with providers. Many councils have strong relationships with local private and voluntary providers of children’s homes and foster placements as well as in-house provision; it will be vital not to lose the benefits of these relationships.
Managing the RCC including partnerships with councils and partners will also need appropriate resourcing, along with supporting infrastructure including HR, IT and Legal. IT systems in particular will be key in ensuring consistent data collection that supports forecasting and placement planning, and understanding of whether changes are leading to better outcomes for children.
During the design process, support will be needed to facilitate conversations and negotiations across different councils, including to consider how RCCs will respond to the strategic priorities of different councils and how the RCC will work with children’s services teams and wider council services in each local authority, recognising that placement commissioning does not take place in a vacuum but rather within the context of local needs and communities. This includes discussion around how RCCs will ensure local placements for children, and how placement decisions will be made to ensure they are kept as close to the child as possible. Links with Regional Adoption Agencies must be considered carefully. Clarity will also be needed as to the working arrangements between RCCs, and commissioners working within them, and key partners including health which may sit across different footprints.
Clarity will also be required over the responsibilities of both the RCC and individual councils, particularly due to the split between placement brokerage and parental responsibility. This includes for situations where an appropriate placement cannot be found, for example as frequently occurs when secure placements are sought. Councils are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children in their care, however under an RCC model will no longer have the resource to secure a placement where needed. Furthermore, it will need to be clear how contract management will take place where the RCC has commissioned the placement but knowledge and responsibility for outcomes of individual children remain with local authorities and social workers.
While the RCC pathfinders are taking place, it will be vital not to lose sight of placement capacity across the country. The pathfinders will not be a success if they skew capacity (either in favour of, or against, RCC areas); ultimately they need to grow capacity to ensure all children can live in a home that is best for them, rather than simply moving the challenge around. Those councils not in pathfinder areas will also need support to increase capacity while the evidence around RCCs is being developed; children do not have time to wait, they need suitable homes now.
Finally, it will be important to establish pathfinders in differing areas to have the best chance of learning lessons that will be applicable elsewhere, if this model is successful and therefore rolled out nationally. This should include areas experiencing differing levels of deprivation, a mix of urban and rural areas, and areas with well-established and less well-established regional working.
Do you have any additional suggestions on improving planning, commissioning and boosting the available number of places to live for children in care?
We welcome the Government’s planned investment in national support for forecasting, commissioning and market shaping. These areas can be challenging for some councils as expertise has been lost in recent years as a result of funding pressures, while other councils have seen success in pooling resources to carry out this work. We are keen to work with the Government to develop this support offer to ensure that it meets councils’ needs and builds on existing good practice.
We believe there is a strong role for regional or national work to provide homes for those children requiring the most specialist care, where it is unrealistic for individual councils to be able to meet all needs. It would be helpful to collate information on the needs of children who councils find it most difficult to find a suitable home for, and what we know about how best to support children with these needs. This information could be used to plan on a regional or national level the provision of suitable homes.
Councils will be more able to ensure that children’s needs are met, including through investment in commissioning expertise, developing in-house placements and working on longer-term arrangements with trusted providers, if children’s services are appropriately funded and if councils had longer-term certainty over funding rather than one year funding settlements. Councils have seen significant reductions in their funding from central government at a time when need for services has increased, which has resulted in an exceptionally challenging context in which to improve provision. It would also be useful to look at where national government can share the ongoing financial risk of developing new provision with councils and voluntary or health sector partners.
There is evidence around how to improve the recruitment and retention of foster carers, which will be built on through the DfE’s planned investment. We encourage the Government to roll this work out swiftly; for example, there is evidence that the Mockingbird model is effective, therefore there is no need to wait to provide councils with funding to roll this out.
The DfE’s Children’s Homes Capital Fund was very well received and over-subscribed; it would be helpful to extend this funding to enable more councils and their partners to develop provision that meets children’s needs. This could helpfully be supplemented with time-limited revenue funding to support the start-up phase for each home.
We know that some councils and private providers are finding it difficult to recruit staff for children’s homes, including registered managers. Consideration of how to improve the recruitment and retention of children’s homes should be included in a broader strategy for the children’s workforce, recognising that many areas have high vacancy rates.
Councils have highlighted challenges in engaging NHS partners in the development and delivery of homes for children with more complex needs. The Department for Health and Social Care could play more of a leadership role here in ensuring that the NHS is a key partner in the delivery of homes for children where specialist health care, including mental health support, is required.
Research commissioned by the LGA identified a range of barriers to establishing and maintaining children’s homes, including:
- The perceived role of children’s residential care as an option of last resort
- High capital expenditure to set up and a lack of predictability in the flow of placements
- Challenges finding the right staff and property, and the need to have all of these in place before being given approval to operate by Ofsted, all of which requires significant time and investment
- The need to improve co-ordinated and strategic commissioning practices to assess need and engage the market.
Tackling these barriers could go some way to making it easier to establish new provision.
We also believe that overarching regulatory reform, as has been proposed by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, would be helpful to ensure that the entire system is fit for purpose. This would include consideration of, for example, regulating providers rather than buildings, allowing councils and providers the flexibility to set up emergency placements and ensure placements meet the needs of individual children.
To reduce the number of children being placed out of area even where this is not in the best interests of the child, in addition to expanding capacity it would be useful to consider how providers can be incentivised to prioritise local children. Over time, this would also support local and regional sufficiency planning, ensuring that as many local placements were for local children as possible, and support relationships between providers and the local authorities where they are based.
Are there changes you think would be helpful to make to the existing corporate parenting principles?
The current corporate parenting principles are helpful and still relevant. It would be useful to consider the views of care experienced people to identify whether they believe anything to be missing from the current principles.
Should these principles be extended to other bodies, consideration must be given as to how to ensure that this does not dilute the duty. This should include clarity over how organisations will be held to account for their delivery against the duty, including through inspection where relevant.
Which bodies, organisations or sectors do you think should be in scope for the extension of the corporate parenting principles - and why?
Extending the corporate parenting principles to health services and the police is a logical extension to their role as statutory safeguarding partners and further emphasises their vital role in the wellbeing, safety and outcomes of children in care and care leavers. The principles should also be extended to education settings at all levels, including early years, schools and further and higher education, to ensure all settings are ambitious for children in care and care leavers and committed to supporting them to achieve their potential.
Consideration should be given to extending the principles to public bodies setting policy for and/or funding sports and cultural services, such as Sport England, Arts Council England and the British Film Institute. Children in care and care leavers may miss opportunities to take part in sports and cultural activities due to disrupted education, finances or other reasons and we must consider ways to ensure children and young people do not miss out. It is also important that where young people show particular aptitude, such as in a sport or art, they have the opportunity and support to pursue this.
It could also be beneficial to extend the principles to organisations supporting adults with key aspects of their lives such as housing and employment, where we know care experienced people can experience disproportionately poorer outcomes than their peers. This could include housing associations, Jobcentre Plus and the probation service.
The UK Government works with a very wide range of agencies and public bodies. It would be useful to consider for each of these whether they should be brought into scope of the corporate parenting principles (this may be especially useful for those organisations that set national policy and/or are responsible for the distribution of funding), or whether they should be incentivised to sign up to the Care Leaver Covenant, significantly broadening the scope of support available for children in care and care leavers.
Do you have any further feedback on the proposals made in the 6 missions of this chapter?
We believe that the strategy could have gone much further in relation to the provision of mental health services for children in care and care leavers. Councils consistently report difficulties that they face in securing appropriate mental health support for children in their care, including for children facing acute mental health crises. Children will not thrive where they are struggling with mental health challenges, and this is therefore a fundamental issue that we must address. We recognise that this strategy focuses on children’s social care services, however all Government departments must take responsibility for supporting the outcomes of children in the care of the state. DHSC and NHS England must take action to ensure that every child in care with a mental health need – and particularly where this need poses a significant threat to the wellbeing or even life of a child – receives the care and support they need. Upskilling children’s social workers and others working with children to ensure a strong understanding of mental health issues is very helpful, particularly to help support those young people with lower-level mental health and wellbeing needs. However this must not come at the expense of formal mental health support from trained practitioners, for all children and young people being supported across children’s social care.
Plans to increase the care leaver bursary are positive. As part of our Work Local ambition we believe plans around apprenticeships could go further, allowing more flexibility around the use of funds such as enabling local government to work with employers to pool the levy to plan provision across an area; devolving unspent levy and traineeships to local government to design and commission local provision would help address the supply / demand issues and widen participation.
Proposals around Staying Put and Staying Close are positive and we support the ambition within them. However evidence shows that Staying Put places additional pressure on capacity for children in care and is significantly underfunded, both of which limit councils’ ability to ensure it is an option for all children. The Government must review the new burdens funding associated with Staying Put to ensure all children have the option to remain with their foster carers, and to ensure that foster carers feel supported (including financially) to offer this.
We are concerned that residential care for children appears to be given a far lower priority in this strategy than foster care. While family settings will be the best option for many children, our members have repeatedly highlighted that for some children in their care, residential children’s homes are the best choice, for example for some older children who express that they do not want to live in another family environment to the one they have grown up in. Research for the LGA highlighted that one of the barriers to developing new children’s homes is their perceived role as an “option of last resort”. If we are to ensure that we have the right homes for all children who need to come into care, we must ensure that a range of options is available and not introduce additional barriers as an unintended consequence of policy.
We have previously called for financial oversight of larger independent providers of children’s placements and are pleased to see commitment to this in the strategy. The Government should work closely with the Care Quality Commission and those in the adult social care sector to ensure that lessons are learnt from the equivalent scheme for adult social care providers. We would also like to see consideration given to how this can be linked to considerations around quality of provision and children’s experiences, and powers given to Ofsted to enable them to easily identify any patterns across provision by a provider or overarching ownership structure.
Overall, to what extent do you agree that our proposals on the social worker workforce address the challenges in the system?
We are pleased that the Department has listened to councils’ significant concerns around the children’s social care workforce and is taking immediate action to provide support with this including through the consultation on use of children’s social work agencies. It is positive that the Department has engaged closely with councils to understand the issues and develop potential solutions.
We welcome work to improve case management systems and to identify and address unnecessary workload drivers. We know that children’s social workers’ time is best spent working directly with children and families as far as possible and ensuring they are able to do so should not only help to improve outcomes for children and their families, but improve job satisfaction, recruitment and retention.
It is also positive that Social Work England will undertake work to educate people on the role of children’s social work, and promote this as a positive career. It would also be helpful if the vital work of children’s social workers was positively discussed in Parliament and in the media, rather than it only being highlighted when things go wrong.
However while we support the measures in the strategy, we have concerns that these do not go far enough to address the insufficiency of children and family social workers. On 30 September 2022, there were 7,900 child and family social worker vacancies, equating to one in every five social work positions – both of these figures were the highest since the data series began in 2017. Our members have increasingly been highlighting significant difficulties in recruiting for both newly qualified and experienced social workers.
We also have concerns that the strategy’s intention that “the reform programme as a whole will have a positive impact on social worker supply, capacity and capability…[it] will reduce the level of demand in the system and free up social worker capacity” will not materialise to the extent required to impact on social worker retention, and certainly not quickly. The level of funding available for the reform programme cannot deliver the extent of reform needed to markedly shift the profile of spending from child protection to earlier help and drive down demand, and will largely be directed at a small number of authorities. Even in pathfinder areas, it is likely to take several years to see a marked reduction in demand. We agree that addressing wider issues in children’s social care is vital in addressing recruitment and retention issues, however our broader concerns with this strategy, in particular with regard to funding and pace, apply here.
If you want the proposals to go further, what would be your top priority for longer term reform?
It can be difficult for councils to make long term plans for staffing and development when they continually have single year funding settlements. It is therefore crucial that councils have long term funding settlements so that local services have a long-term, sustainable future and can confidently make plans to develop or recruit the workforce they need.
We would like to see much more early career planning, a recruitment campaign and some mid-career change programmes into social work. Reducing caseloads by increasing staff numbers and encouraging more flexible working patterns would be beneficial.
Beyond the proposals set out in this chapter, what would help ensure we have a children’s social care system that continues to share and apply best practice, so that it learns from and improves itself?
Sector-led improvement has been shown to be very effective and we encourage the department to consider how it can continue to support this. The DfE-funded LGA children’s improvement programme has been independently evaluated as having “a significantly positive impact on improvements in council children’s services”, while the Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliances have allowed councils to harness knowledge and resources locally to drive regional improvements. Both the children’s improvement programme and the RIIAs should be central to ongoing improvement. We must also recognise that all councils – not just those rated “outstanding” – have something to offer. We also know that Sector-Led Improvement Partners have been well-received, though this has worked better where councils have had resources and capacity to deliver this well.
The children’s services improvement space can sometimes appear ‘crowded’, especially when a council is judged to be inadequate by Ofsted. It would be helpful to be clear about the whole system offer, offering clarity and consistency around what type of support is provided when and by whom. This should include consideration of how improvement is managed across children’s services, for example in both social care and SEND.
Partners, including statutory safeguarding partners, are vital to the delivery of good children’s social care so consideration must be given to how partners can be supported and incentivised to share and learn best practice amongst themselves as well as with councils. Government can play a key leadership role here, looking at how integrated policy can drive integrated practice that continually improves.
Sharing, learning and applying good practice requires people to have time to do so, from those who research and plan improvements to those putting them into practice. Ensuring children’s social care is adequately resourced with both people and funding will support a learning environment and continuous improvement.
Much of the focus in this chapter are on quantitative data. While this can be a helpful indicator of direction of travel, it can only ever provide one piece of the full picture and if care is not taken, can unhelpfully skew focus. Qualitative data is also vital, along with contextual information. Data should not be used to form a “league table”, given the significantly different challenges faced by both councils and families in different areas, but to spot patterns or support more detailed conversations.
Across children’s services there will be a significant number of pilots and pathfinders taking place in the coming years. It would be useful to map these and ensure this information is clearly available to those outside children’s services as well as those within it, to ensure understanding of the landscape and to identify what factors may be driving opportunities, improvement and challenges.
In your opinion, how can we ensure the delivery of reform is successful?
We welcome commitment within the strategy to work with councils and partners to co-design pathfinders; this will be vital in ensuring that these build on existing good practice and tackle current barriers to success, as well as flexing to work in local contexts. Reform is far more likely to succeed if it is “done with” rather than “done to”. The importance of engaging with local politicians, in particular Leaders and Lead Members for Children, must not be overlooked; research is clear that political support is vital in successful reform.
It will be essential to build in independent evaluation of new programmes to assess their success in improving experiences of and outcomes for children and families, and to give programmes sufficient time to deliver results before final evaluations.
It will also be important to keep the views of children, young people, families and practitioners at the forefront of design and evaluation. This feedback will add vital context to data points and highlight successes or pressure points that may otherwise go unnoticed, yet could be important drivers of success or failure.
Reform must be properly funded; this means that funding is sufficient to deliver services that meet need, is delivered via multi-year settlements to allow for longer-term planning, and which reflect current and future demands for local authority services.
Unfortunately, the scale of funding to deliver reform is currently missing. The strategy commits £200 million in additional funding to support children’s social care, and any additional investment is of course welcome and will be vital to implement reforms. However, LGA analysis prior to high levels of inflation indicates an existing shortfall of £1.6 billion per year simply to maintain current service levels. The Care Review recommended an additional investment of at least £2.6 billion over four years, prior to the impact of inflation, to improve the system to better meet children’s needs. And despite increasing their budgets by £708 million in 2020/21, councils still overspent their budgets by £800 million that year, indicating the scale of pressure on the system.
Furthermore, much of the additional funding committed in this strategy will go to pathfinder and pilot areas, with very little being allocated elsewhere. This means that children living in the vast majority of the country will not benefit from the additional funding that is desperately needed.
To deliver true system reform, we must have the commitment of partners. This will mean at a minimum commitment from health, police and schools at a local level and via their respective Government departments. We are concerned that the strategy does not do enough to hold partners to account for their role in supporting children and families who are receiving support from children’s social care. We must also not lose sight of the wider context in which children are living and the importance of ensuring families are able to thrive; without tackling issues such as economic deprivation for example, children’s social care will often find itself addressing the symptoms rather than the cause.
Pathfinder and pilot areas will need significant support to ensure that they are able to both co-design and implement reforms, and continue delivering high quality support to children and families while those changes are taking place. This will include support for the workforce, much of which is already under enormous pressure and will be expected to implement new ways of working at the same time as working with vulnerable families. Research for the LGA by the Isos Partnership on structural change in children’s social care offers some vital learning to support this process, including the importance of political buy in, leadership and vision, communication, co-production and culture. Practical support such as dedicated funding and IT and management information systems that align across partnerships are also key.
Finally, the Isos Partnership research also emphasised the importance of longevity in delivering positive change, stating “longevity creates stability and continuity and an environment in which high quality practice can thrive. Senior…described the length of time it can take for new structures and practices to embed and the need for constancy in implementing change.” While we know some change is needed urgently, we must recognise that structural or cultural changes will take longer to embed and we must allow sufficient time for that.
Do you have any overall comments about the potential impact, whether positive or negative, of our proposed changes on those who share protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 that we have not identified? Where you identify any negative impacts, we would also welcome suggestions of how you think these might be mitigated.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care outlined a range of challenges with regard to inequalities within children’s social care. It will be vital to consider the impact of proposed new approaches, including the Pathfinders, on those with protected characteristics to identify whether they address those inequalities.
We also question whether this strategy goes far enough to address issues highlighted by disabled children and their families with regard to access to children’s social care. The proposed actions are welcome, however there remain significant challenges including access to short breaks, access to good quality placements in residential special schools and funding of services across health and social care. We know there are also challenges for those children who transition to adult social care. We would like to see more work take place to identify and build on existing good practice, and to fund appropriate care and support for disabled children and their families.
Do you have any overall comments about the potential impact, whether positive or negative, of our proposed changes on children’s rights?
We are concerned that, should the Illegal Migration Bill become law, the changes outlined in this strategy will not be applied to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This strategy aims to put the best interests of children, their feelings and wishes, and lasting relationships at the centre of children’s social care. This reflects the rights of children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However the Illegal Migration Bill will see children removed from the UK at the age of 18, which is incompatible with both this strategy and the UNCRC.