Date: 13 May 2022
A further blog by Care Review Watch Alliance makes powerful points about the complexity of children’s services work, the dedication of social workers and professionals to support families and that hearing local authorities or professionals get the blame is unfair and should have been challenged more.
Listening to the debate about the “future of care” I did feel challenged. I listened to David Akinsanya say how he had been let down as a child in care and why Andy Elvin wanted care services taken away from local authorities. Alison Alexander had been a Director of Children’s Services but had seen children’s services compete with other services like highways and waste. Seeing this made her think the current set up doesn’t work.
I have been a social worker. I know how hard my colleagues and I tried to do the best for children – often at a personal cost and using up our own resilience, resources and time. I remembered that trying to make children’s lives better and safer was not easy or straightforward. Some of the biggest challenges I have faced have been navigating the internal politics of a local authority that had significant resource issues. I often found it was the families who were straightforward with me but getting the right support for them from my own organisation was the difficult bit.
Why is this the case? Kathy Evans argued that it was a managerial culture that had become obsessed with the market. Carolyne Willow argued that children’s services needed to “see” the child. Really see them. See them as who they were. Keeley said that she hadn’t been seen or heard when social workers visited and that had left her totally unsafe.
Again I felt challenged. I thought back to my own practice. It had been far from perfect. I had tried to support children, to listen to them and fight for their needs. I had tried to build relationships. I had tried to listen to professionals and family members concerns. It was never easy and I probably made mistakes. Looking back I remember times of deep discomfort when I saw 16 and 17 year olds who said they were homeless and were batted about between housing and children’s services and their own families. I thought about families who had been known to social care for years. The offer to them was ‘early help’. There are more examples and it simply wasn’t good enough.
Challenge is uncomfortable. It stops you in your tracks. Sometimes you want to deny it. Sometimes it galvanises us in to action. We need challenge, however uncomfortable, to make us pause and to consider the future. That is why we held this event. We are at a crossroads with our care system. On current trends we could see 100,000 children in care in the coming years. It is a huge number and the system needs to change to reduce the number of children coming in to care. We also need ensure that those who come into care have the right support.
I certainly didn’t agree with everything the panelists said and I do have concerns about the implications of a number of the ideas proposed. However, maintaining the status quo is also not good enough and children in care deserve better and more consistent support. I did see big themes emerge of lack of resources impacting practice and decisions, of children in care not always being a priority for central government as well as local government and that determined action is needed to tackle this.
I worry that whatever the Care Review recommends, children’s services will have to compete for scarce resources at a national and local level and to fight for the attention of our political leaders. As we (as a sector) get to grips with the Care Review and its proposals – our challenge will be how we build a consensus about pushing our political leaders to not make children’s lives a political football and to commit themselves to work together to make children’s lives better. We need to challenge our political leaders to prioritise children, their safety and their wellbeing.
Children don’t have the vote. Parents on the margins of society and struggling aren’t a powerful lobby movement. We need “will” – genuine political will based on doing something which is right – to make a commitment over a long period to deliver change for our children. There needs to be cross party consensus and agreement (like the Children Act 1989) to do this. The care review will make suggestions, but to meet children and families’ needs in the longer term our political leaders and government departments need to be challenged to work together.
James Bury, Head of Policy, Research & Development, CoramBAAF