Business Children & Young People Legal Opinion

Why a radical reset of children’s social care is required

Francesca Snape, Solicitor, Markel Law

Francesca Snape, solicitor at Markel Law, delves into recent regulatory and legislative recommendations for those operating children’s social care provision, set out by the final independent review of children’s social care report.

The report, published in May 2022, highlighted various evaluations that have taken place over the previous 30 years including attempts to reform and ideas that were tested and put aside.

It is clear that progress to date has been slow and lacking in impetus. This underpins the importance of the latest recommendations requiring urgent consideration and implementation by Government for a sector that is already at crisis point.

The report’s findings stress the importance of early intervention for families who need help. Currently there is a focus on crisis intervention but a lack of responsive and effective support at a much earlier stage. The report identifies the need for a radical reset to the children’s social care system, recommending an injection of approximately £2 billion over the next five years to rebalance spending in the system.

Finding, matching, building, and running homes for children in care is ‘broken’ because of weak oversight, excessive cost and profiteering, poor planning, and a lack of coordination. To address these issues, a radical change to the commissioning and oversight of children’s social care services through the introduction of Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) forms one of many recommendations.

Further proposals include a revolution in ‘Family Help,’ the need for a wider range of organisations, such as schools, colleges, and universities, to function as corporate parents for ‘looked after’ children, and an overhaul in care standards across the industry.

The review considered care standards involved in the running of children’s homes, identifying the ability to provide tailored home environments for children is constrained, rather than supported, by a ‘highly complex web of standards and legislation.’ A fresh set of standards which sets a high bar for quality and care is advised, whilst allowing for the flexibility needed to tailor homes around the needs of children.

It is recommended that these standards apply to all homes where children live, replacing all regulations and guidance currently in place for residential children’s homes, fostering homes and unregulated provision. This change would mean potentially replacing 13 pieces of legislation and statutory guidance.

The report also rightly identifies the issue of sufficiency in the sector, both in residential children’s homes and a shortage of foster carers. It is of little surprise that part of the recommendations suggests abolishing unregulated provision for all children aged under 18. However, it is vital that the sufficiency issues are addressed adequately in order to support the effectiveness of such a ban.

The report further recommends that Ofsted’s powers are extended to improve its role in intervening more effectively when services are not good enough.

Whilst the review’s conclusions are wide ranging, it is easy to see how attempts to pick recommendations from the report could have a damaging impact on an already struggling system. Concerns are also likely to be expressed by the private sector with the report’s biggest changes focussing on the commissioning of services, which it states should reduce ‘spot purchasing’ and increase local authority-owned services.

The regulatory landscape will undoubtedly see significant changes and providers will need to be alive to accepted recommendations, particularly in the unregulated sector. Changes to care standards may apply across the whole of the social care sector, if taken forward, which will require in depth reviews and analysis of those services already in operation to ensure compliance with any new standards.

Kirsty

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