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Children’s social care a ‘tower of Jenga held together with Sellotape’

Social services place too much emphasis on investigating families struggling to care for their children rather than giving them support to help them through their difficulties, a review has found.

England’s current system has been described as a ’30-year-old tower of Jenga held together with Sellotape: simultaneously rigid and yet shaky’.

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care found that, too often children are moved far from where they have grown up, are separated from their brothers or sisters, are forced to move schools, and have a revolving door of social workers.

Josh MacAlister, who led the review, said: ‘We are failing to build lifelong loving relationships around these children.

‘There are many professionals and services doing excellent work but this report sets out the scale of the problems we face and the urgent need for a new approach.’

The review found that the focus on investigations rather than support is creating an adversarial atmosphere in the care sector – pitting families against the authorities.

It found that just under 135,000 investigations where a child was suspected of suffering significant harm did not result in them being placed on a child protection plan.

five children sitting on bench front of trees

Charlotte Ramsden, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said:

‘This review is a once in a generation opportunity to make meaningful and lasting change for the children and young people who need our help and support to thrive.

‘The case for change reiterates a series of very important issues that ADCS has been raising with government over the last few years. From the value of early help, the impact of poverty on children’s lives and outcomes, the marketisation of services for vulnerable children, the slow pace of change in youth custody responses, funding and the lack of coordination for child and family policy across government.

‘As well as highlighting concerns, which the report does well, we must also recognise the incredible work undertaken by our social workers, and the wider workforce, on a daily basis.

‘Social workers operate within a strict legislative framework and under intense scrutiny from many different angles. Yes, the workforce must be empowered to make the best decisions for children and families, but appropriate and measured checks and balances are also needed to support this life changing work, which can be absolutely transformative for children and families.

‘For too long external influences have driven risk averse cultures and we need to challenge this. We have one of the safest child protection systems in the world and it is vitally important to work to keep families together where that is right for children.

‘However, whilst by no means perfect, care can be and is the right place for some children and we must work to make it the best place possible for those who need it.

‘Children should not be stigmatized for the impact of their life experiences or mistakes the adults in their lives may have made. We all have a responsibility, including government, to challenge lazy stereotypes, to be ambitious about what children in care and care leavers can achieve.

‘There are fundamental issues raised within this report, such as the contributory causal relationship between income and state intervention, along with the racial disparities that exist.

‘The review must therefore seek to understand not only the symptoms, but the root causes and solutions, which may be beyond the gift of children’s services, such as welfare and benefit policies. We all have an important part to play, not least central government.’

Photo Credit – Piron Guillaume

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