Independent review of children’s social care challenges the sector, but will it deliver operational change?

The eagerly anticipated independent review of children’s social care has been published and the industry has spent the last two weeks poring over the detail. While the final recommendations won’t be released until early next year, the initial findings are enough to give us a flavour of the tone and sentiment of the review so far.

Josh MacAlister, who was brought in to chair the Government’s independent review back in January, has been vocal of the sector’s ‘shortcomings’ since his appointment. In recent weeks he has launched a blistering attack on the level of profit margins and the delivery of ‘consistently poor outcomes’ for young people. Josh, a former teacher, is searching for more evidence to continue the review, himself not having a social care background. 

Overall, the report has a very different tone to what the sector expected, and much of this should be welcomed. However, there is not much that is new here. Sector workers and leaders already knew that inequality leads to an over representation in the child protection system. Being able to properly fund and evaluate ‘levelling up’ measures is crucial. It’s fair to say that the industry was sceptical about what the report would include, whether it would go far enough, and whether it would demonstrate a deep enough understanding of the difficulties the sector is facing. While the initial findings may be uncomfortable reading for the Government, it’s this level of challenge that is needed to drive long-term improvement and to meet demand. 

So, what were some of the key takeaways from the review’s initial findings?

  • Levelling up – it’s encouraging to see recognition around the need for increased investment and rebalancing of care provision across the UK, as the report said deprivation was a key factor among families needing help. Many of those who asked for support found assessments and investigations added to their stress.
  • Focus on early help – acknowledgement that the sector needs to redress the balance of focus on crisis support and a move towards providing early help is a real positive. What’s more, allowing social workers, who are the industry’s greatest asset, to spend more time with families – avoiding a situation where they’re being overwhelmed with paperwork – is an excellent move, as long as any changes are still safe and robust.
  • Deregulation – there is some suggestion in the report that the review may push for more deregulation in how the community supports families, particularly in kinship care. This would be a worry for the sector if it did materialise and is one potential move that you can only hope gets lost in all the rhetoric. 

As with any strategic document like this, there are some interesting and encouraging ideas, but the value will be in whether the investment and framework that follows will convert to operational effectiveness and improving practice in a tangible way. There is a danger that this will simply be another review that says the right things but ends up just gathering dust at the Department for Education.