Last week marked a significant milestone for children’s social care with the publication of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and the National Safeguarding Panel’s Review of Child Protection in England, in relation to the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson. The reports have recommended seismic changes to the way services are funded, organised and delivered so that the sector can meet the extensive and complex challenge of supporting children and families in need and protecting children from harm and abuse. Proposals of this scale are welcome but there is much debate about what change should look like. The government’s initial response to the reviews suggests that there is political backing for reform and we anticipate detailed implementation plans will be drawn up over the next six months.
The introduction of a National Children’s Social Care Framework has the potential to provide clarity for social workers, children and families about what good practice looks like. Alongside the National Panel’s recommendation for the creation of expert child protection units, the role of social workers in protecting children where there is a risk of significant harm could become separate from the broader provision of Family Help. However, both reports emphasise the importance of co-working and continuity for families. The Panel proposes a phased implementation plan of this new model and WWCSC is calling for a proper evaluation of this so we can understand to what extent it makes a difference to children’s safety and long-term outcomes. This is an important opportunity to develop a much-needed evidence base for new ways of working.
And evidence does feature prominently in both reports. In the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, many of the recommendations focus on interventions that have been piloted or are the subject of on-going large-scale impact evaluations. This is fantastic to see as it creates an opportunity to strengthen the evidence base for children’s social care and will ultimately contribute to improved outcomes for children and families. WWCSC was particularly pleased to see practice models that we are evaluating as part of the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme included as examples of promising practice (Family Safeguarding, Family Valued and No Wrong Door). Last year we published pilot evaluations of these models and any local authorities considering implementation should use these to inform their process.
Similarly, the review highlighted Mockingbird Family Model, Family Group Conferencing and Family Drug and Alcohol Courts as interventions that should form part of the future of children’s social care. Our impact evaluations of all three interventions are due to be published in the coming months and they will be vital in helping us understand the difference they make to particular outcomes.
The DfE’s response to the review included the welcome announcement that funding for local authorities involved in our Social Workers in Schools and Supervision of Designated Safeguarding Leads programmes will continue into the autumn term, whilst we await the findings of our randomised controlled trials. These interventions could inform the National Social Care Framework as ways of supporting practice in communities to safeguard children and safely reduce the need for statutory intervention and care.
Underpinning the call for a greater use of evidence in the development of local services and national policy, the review recommends that an integrated what works centre for children and families is created through a merger between WWCSC and the Early Intervention Foundation. Given the review’s focus on a new offer of ‘Family Help’, an integrated what works centre makes a great deal of sense and chimes with our own thinking about the best way to achieve impact for children and families who, regardless of where they are in the system, are often facing similar challenges. We see this as an exciting opportunity and our Boards are in discussions with EIF about how to take it forward. We will share more news on this in the coming months.
The reports published this week are a stark reminder of what isn’t working in the current system and the devastating consequences of a failure to protect children who are at risk of harm and abuse. It is a moment for solemn reflection and my thoughts are with the family, friends and professionals who knew and cared for Arthur and Star. We now need to come together as a sector and push forward reform of our children’s social care system.