The Care Review in England
Last month Gavin Williamson, secretary of state for education, announced an independent review of children’s social care in England. We welcome this review and over the coming months coIleagues from The Fostering Network will explore key issues that the review must consider. First up is our chief executive Kevin Williams.
The issues that will need to be considered by the review are complex and there is no easy fix but we must endeavour to improve ‘the system’ so that children and young people who are in care or will enter care can have the best possible childhoods. ‘The system’ cannot be seen in isolation from wider society and the resources allocated by public services to support families and communities.
Striking a balance
It is essential that the purpose of care is understood and the rational for the state intervening in family life is clear. The first complex issue I think we need to address is the role of the state to support or control. Clearly children and young people must be protected from harm but this can be done both through supporting families and removing children. The balance required here will often depend on the availability of resources to support families alongside each family’s ability and willingness to change when necessary. The Children’s Act 1989 received political consensus but the Act itself was a set of balances between the removal of children and family support. As Lorraine Fox-Harding points out, there are four value perspectives that exist: laissez-faire, state paternalism, defence of birth family and children’s rights. It has been left to individual organisations, local authorities, and individual social workers to find the right balance on individual cases and the local response to local need. This difficult balance may be one reason why there is a postcode lottery of care admissions despite the commonality of the legal framework. It is also important to recognise that society is not static, but ever evolving, and emphasis on each of these value positions will change over time. It is right that those with the lived experience of care are given priority in helping us understand the care system but this is as a result of the growth in acknowledgement of the children’s rights perspective – I doubt whether the same consideration was given in 1989 when the Act was framed.
With a critical eye…
It will be vital that the review uses evidence, research and evidence informed practice to identify when care works and equally when it does not. Who are the young people that care makes a difference to, and who sadly does it sometimes let down despite the good intentions of those involved? What are the resources needed to support families in their communities and how can care be seen as part of that support? You will not be surprised to read that I think foster care has a major role to play in both supporting children and young people in care and supporting birth families.
The second complex issue is how best to deliver care for children who are deemed to be in need of care by the state. There is often a balance to be found between informal family and friends care, and formal arrangements for parenting through agencies of the state. We will explore this further in our next blog focusing on the review.