The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care published its Case for Change on 17 June, having heard evidence from hundreds of people working with children and families, and from even more with lived experience of children’s social care. This builds on the huge response to its earlier calls for advice and evidence.
There’s much we can agree with in the report. For example, we are glad to see the review echo the call that we (and many others) have made for a cross-government approach to achieving solutions. We were delighted to see the review stress the need for increased support for kinship carers. We welcome the emphasis placed on effective early intervention and support for families, which will require significant investment.
It is right to stress the critical importance of protecting and nurturing lasting relationships for children in care. However, until the overall sufficiency crisis is resolved, too many children will continue to live far from family and friends, often in unsuitable accommodation, risking further instability and difficulties in their lives.
It’s good to see the report raising the link between deprivation and families’ involvement with children’s social care. We’d like to see the review explore the causes of poverty on children and families in more depth, and how policy and practice can either exacerbate or tackle inequalities.
Elsewhere, the Case for Change raises several further issues that warrant careful and considered exploration. While there is a clear urgency to finding solutions, it’s important not to rush to conclusions that may create risk or have unintended consequences.
Our inspection findings don’t tell us that LAs are routinely carrying out unnecessary child protection investigations. We’re more likely to report that an LA is too slow to take decisive action when children may be at serious risk of harm. The review is right to highlight the increase in the number of child protection inquiries as worthy of serious investigation, but this is a highly complex area with many related issues to consider when trying to understand the reasons for the rise.
Similarly, while we would agree that there is a tension when balancing the need to protect children at the same time as supporting families – doing this well requires considerable skills from social workers and other professionals – it is not clear how separating those roles would lead to better outcomes for children or their families. We worry that fragmenting the continuum of help and protection could lead to less sensitive management of risk, increased bureaucracy, and disproportionate intervention.
The review has questioned whether inspection does enough to look at the things that matter most to children and families, and whether it drives what it sees as overly bureaucratic, compliance-led practice. This is a reasonable challenge. We don’t underestimate the influence Ofsted has on practice.
We’ve worked hard in recent years to move away from inspections that are too compliance-based or over-prescriptive. The feedback we receive from providers and LA would suggest that we largely get this right. But we’ll continue to listen to all feedback and do all we can to work consistently.
Of course, we are still in the relatively early days of the review and there will be no shortage of heated debates as the work progresses. The conversations will be challenging and, at times, unsettling. But it’s up all of us to engage in discussions constructively and openly, in the interests of getting this right for children and families.
Read Ofsted’s full response to the Case for Change here