Care Review must focus on whole systems

Mark Owers
Friday, January 22, 2021

The Care Review is an opportunity to look at the entire system and to consolidate the learning we have done since the Children Act 1989. It’s a daunting, but exciting task for Josh and his team.

As a starting point, we need to be much clearer about what the care system is for and who it should serve and why. To do that, we need to have a clearer understanding of what the case system is.

There is a tendency to consider it through a narrow lens of statutory services, even just Children’s Services, when in fact children, young people and adults with care experience live and interact in multiple systems that must understand and support them better. We need Caring Systems.

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The lived experience of children, young people and adults must be put at the heart of caring systems, systems that have a relentless focus on individuals and uniqueness. One size does not fit all.

Launching the review and prioritising experts by experience was the right thing for Josh to do, but understanding lived experience is no easy task, and raises many questions. How will people have an opportunity to engage?

How exactly will the interviews be conducted? How will the review take account of people reliving their trauma as they explain what they wish to see change and why? How will the review decide which experiences are the most important? There will need to be multiple ways of engagement, all sensitively considered and managed.

Alongside, those we serve, the review must prioritise the needs of frontline practitioners and managers.

To what extent do they feel safe, valued and trusted to enable them to be kind and compassionate to the children and families they serve. And understanding how they make best use of themselves will be important: doing WITH, not for, to, or not at all; understanding the impact of trauma; thinking beyond abuse in the family and embedding the importance of contextual, complex and transitional safeguarding; being rights respecting, both children’s rights and family rights; and the importance of working together in an integrated way.

Looking at the whole system will hopefully enable us to have greater balance in social care. For too long, the focus has been on safeguarding, with care as the poor relation. How can all agencies work together better to safeguard children and young people AND support them to secure stability and permanence without delay?

How should it all fit together and who is on the hook for improving outcomes? How do we enable practitioners to be well trained, supported and challenged to exercise their professional curiosity, discretion and judgement? What should a national framework look like to enable help, support and care to be delivered to meet individual needs and circumstances. One size does not fit all. What internal and external scrutiny do we need to ensure quality, fairness and

transparency in a strengths based, trauma informed and proportionate way?

How do we ensure we have enough services? It has long been evident that local authorities cannot plan for demand on their own. How can we support delivery partners better, locally, nationally and sub-nationally to understand local needs and desired outcomes and the necessary costs to deliver the right services, at the right time. How can we make better use of data intelligence to secure better value from more caring systems in the future?

“There are many more questions to ask and there will be some difficult hurdles for Josh and his team to overcome. I wish him well with the review and I hope the many diverse stakeholders he will seek to work with in the coming months approach the review with optimism to make the most of this opportunity.”

Mark Owers co-authored the Review of Fostering in England (2018), he is a member of the National Stability Forum and he is the director of safeguarding and care in Jersey.

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