The Association of Child Protection Professionals (AoCPP) have been carefully considering the contents of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s final report. We intend to provide a more comprehensive response after we have reflected on the report and engaged in broader consultation with our members. This position statement sets out our initial thoughts.
The publication of the review gives a real opportunity to bring about much needed change for children and families within the social care system. It is positive that young people and the care experienced have been central to the review, as being in receipt of child protection and/or care services can have lifelong consequences. Hearing and understanding lived experiences is crucial to inform positive change. On this basis we would have welcomed more emphasis on learning from the experience of children’s social care practitioners who deliver care and protection to thousands of children every day.
We agree with and support several aspects of the report’s findings, including the acknowledgement of the pressures that child protection and care services are under with record numbers of referrals, increasing indicators of need (including soaring levels of poverty) and lack of resources. These pressures often mean that practitioners have less than the optimal amount of time needed to build relationships with and support vulnerable children and their families. It is not surprising that several of the testimonies quoted articulate a poor lived experience of children’s social care, and this remains one of the most compelling arguments for systemic reform.
We agree with the call for an ‘end to profiteering’ within the care system and for the need for a substantive increase in funding. Further analysis is needed to determine whether the amounts proposed are sufficient to compensate for the sustained reductions in funding we have seen.
We support the call for better clarification from Ofsted as to what ‘child focussed’ practice entails in the context of its inspection framework. We also support the call to reform the cumbersome ICT systems which our members tell us are getting in the way of spending direct time with children.
We applaud the emphasis on recognising the high levels of skill and expertise required in child protection decision-making. This contrasts with the pervading narrative that child protection can be reduced down to ‘common sense’.
We have some concerns about the recommendations for the development of an ‘Expert Child Protection Practitioner’ role, and this will need further consideration to understand the detail and implications for multi-agency safeguarding practice.
We are also concerned at the proposal to abolish the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). This role has been a key stable and consistent figure in the lives of children who enter the social care system, and is crucial to ensuring that their views are heard and that those providing their care are held to account. There is evidence that IROs are not able to spend satisfactory time with children because of systemic issues including the large numbers of children that they are responsible for and their sense of being ‘overstretched’, rather than because of flaws in the role itself.
We would also like to raise questions about the assumption within the report that being ‘in care’ means living away from the family home. This appears to exclude those children who are subject to a Care Order whilst living at home which is an increasingly common safeguarding approach in some parts of the country. This brings a unique set of challenges that need further consideration.
The report acknowledges the funding pressures that services are under and the increasing level of need within society. There is little acknowledgement of how preventative and support services have been hollowed out by funding reductions over the previous decade which has pushed more children and their families into crisis. We need further analysis about whether the proposed resource increase for preventative services is adequate to address this structural need.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has provided a robust overview of the children’s social care system and many of the problems it faces. The need for reform is unequivocal.
The review will ultimately be judged on whether its recommendations for reform are deemed to be realistic and achievable. We support the review’s call for a White Paper outlining how the Government intend to take the recommendations forward, and for the opportunity to engage in detailed discussions to ensure that we have the best outcome for children and their families.
In the interim, we agree with the Education Secretary’s assessment that this should be ‘the start of a journey to change’ and the Children’s Commissioner for England’s assertion that ‘we must not underestimate the need to act’ as ‘so many children’s lives and futures are at stake’.