Member News: St Christopher's CEO Jonathan Whalley’s Blog – The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care
The 23rd May saw the publication of England’s much anticipated Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. This has been labelled as a once in a generation opportunity to bring about a reformation of the care system and introduce positive changes.
As a part of this review we undertook to engage with young people across St Christopher’s and their views were subsequently fed directly into this process. I don’t think you will be surprised to hear that our young people are full of ambition and want the same things as their peers; stability, strong, loving and positive relationships, good education, happy experiences of childhood and Brighter Futures.
I have read too many reports in my professional life that list, in powerfully negative language, the ways in which children looked after are different to their peers. Statistics that tell us how young people in care are more likely to become homeless, be criminally or sexually exploited, to be susceptible to substance misuse and addiction throughout adulthood, to fail in education and to disproportionately populate our prisons. Too often it has felt as though there is a poverty of ambition for looked after children, not by them, but by those around them.
Too many young people state that the care system has let them down.
The review of children’s social care creates an opportunity to change things, to reset the process and ensure that young people leave care having been positively impacted by that experience.
There are a number of things within the report that, if successfully applied, should bring about positive outcomes.
There is a clear emphasis on providing early support to children and families to prevent them coming into the care system, and an investment of billions of pounds to encourage innovation and new ways of working. There are likely to be opportunities for organisations such as ours to work with local authorities to find new ways to reduce the number of children coming into care.
The report also talks about the importance of stability in a young person’s life. As we know, relationships are more likely to be meaningful and impacting if they are allowed to endure. Therefore, providing care placements that do not breakdown, but are supported and protected is critical, as is providing placements for children close to their point of origin and not hundreds of miles from their home, education and important relationships. We know that Staying Close support for young people progressing from residential children’s care is the right approach, allowing them to develop relationships that will be there for them not just in the here and now, but importantly well into the future.
There are also some recommendations about the need to improve data collection and data sharing. I am hopeful that this will lead to much needed improvements to the ways in which information is shared during the referrals and placements process, but clear standards and expectations for data collection, retention and use will be a welcome development.
The report also introduces the creation of Regional Care Cooperatives to ensure there are sufficient numbers of placements for children locally. It is unclear at this stage how this might impact on the ways in which placements for children are agreed and I have some concerns about decisions for children being made by people who do not know them, do not understand their needs, and have perhaps greater concerns about the finances and cost of placements. However, the report also very clearly states that there needs to be much more emphasis on making placements with not-for-profit organisations. This aligns very strongly with our values at St Christopher’s where we do not believe that people should profiteer from the circumstances and needs of children in care.
I am however disappointed with the review for not focussing in enough detail on one important issue for children looked after; understanding and meeting their mental health needs. We know that the young people placed in our care are highly likely to have pre-existing diagnosis of mental health needs and that care should be a holistic approach to meeting their full needs, not just their physical ones. Too little, in my opinion, is made of this within the report.
As a Senior Leadership Team we will be reviewing the report in detail and considering our organisation’s response and the changes we may need to make in our ways of working across our operations. In the meantime, you can access the full report Here.
What does not change is our desire at St Christopher’s to give the young people entrusted in our care a positive experience of childhood, loving homes and trusting relationships that will endure into the future. Importantly we will continue to have ambition for them that will be equal to the ambition they have for themselves.
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