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  • Writer's pictureEmmet Regan

Reform and Relationships: Making the Care Review a Reality

The Care Review may not be perfect but in its recognition that reform is about relationships, it offers a chance for genuine change says Emmet Regan.

Josh MacAlister’s Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England has provided a bold framework for reforming a system that has let down those who need it most for too long. The report may not be universally welcomed nor universally supported but, from Durham to Devon, there is too much variation, too much profit and not enough focus on long-term relationships for our children. Now is the time to be brave and to deliver.

An emphasis on family, together with lessons from past successes, provide a blueprint for delivering the Care Review.

The Review praises the dedication of social workers who go above and beyond but recognises that, ‘families are complex, intimate and relational, and these are features that public services struggle to work with’. Elsewhere, over recent years, we have seen the difference that structural change has made to regional adoption services, and the impact of innovative models such as Family Safeguarding and Family Valued. The trick for implementing the Care Review is weaving together the two threads of reform and relationships it make it a reality.

Time for innovation

Mutual Ventures welcomes the concepts of ‘Family Help’ and the ‘Family Network Plan’, recognising the role of relationships in children’s lives. Providing the right help at the right time by the right people (be they extended family or a wider group of professionals) is crucial to success.

One of the most innovative solutions in the Review is the call for the creation of new Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) to tackle the issues in care placements. The Review states ‘they will take on responsibility for the creation and running of all new public sector fostering, residential and secure care in a region, as well as commissioning all not-for-profit and private sector provided care for children as necessary’. Following the Competition and Markets Authority report, the Care Review rightly recognises a broken market that neither provides the outcomes needed nor value for money. Done well, and if a focus on relationships are hard-wired into their creation, RCC’s could fundamentally change how the state engages to protect those who need it most.

The Review’s focus on workforce development addresses one of the great contradictions of social work: that professionals invest their time supporting children yet themselves do not get the right support. Correcting this has to be fundamental to any reforms.

Overall, from experience, I think the following is crucial to the implementation of the Care Review:

  • ‘Doing with, not to’ – A top-down approach will not work, central government can set the framework but local and regional partners must have the flexibility to deliver within their own context. There can always be more than one answer to the same question.

  • Listen (and actually mean it) – Reforms will only work if they listen to and are built around those who are part of the system, hardwiring people’s lived experience into future plans.

  • Talk (and keep talking) – Clear messages are is crucial to the success of the reforms. Social workers throughout the system need to know why the Review is so important and what their role is in any plans for change. Getting beyond SW1, and into the country to talk will be vital.

  • What does good look like? – Articulating a clear vision that is measurable, achievable, and allows everyone to be invested in its success.

Starting and ending with relationships

In the Care Review’s acknowledgements, I was really struck by something Josh McAlister wrote: ‘Nothing has shaped my thinking more than listening to those that children’s social care exists to serve – children, parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and care experienced adults. You have made me pause, laugh and cry and you have fuelled the review to be ambitious about the change that is needed’. For me, this has to be at the core of the implementation of the Care Review, recognising that reform needs relationships and it is the people across the country who must seize this once in a generation opportunity.

The fundamental role of any functioning state is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. For too long, the social care system has failed those who need it most. The corridors for Whitehall are littered with reports and commissions that sit of shelves. The issue is not what is printed in the report but how it can become a reality, changing outcomes, maximising resources and protecting our most vulnerable. That is what we should all focus on.

Read the Independent Review of Children's Social Care here

Read more about MV's work in children's services here


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