Examining how the Care Review should work

Ed Nixon and Jonathan Stanley
Monday, November 23, 2020

Motivation to work in social work and care often comes with an understanding that we can no longer accept the things we cannot change; we should change the things we cannot accept.

Care reviews come once in a professional lifetime. It is 40 years since the 1989 Children Act, still the guiding light of our work in bleak times. Sure Start (1998) and Every Child Matters (2003) followed. These were the culmination of people making proactive proposals for years before. So too it has been with the recent Scottish care ‘review like no other’.

Our experience is that children in care and their professionals are idea rich. It is imperative that our collective ideas structure the care review making proactive proposals for its leadership, content and methods.

Professionals standing alongside children in care and care experienced people taking a stance of ‘nothing about us without us’. The care review is about ‘us’, who we are and what we do. If we don’t make known what is in our minds, then our minds will be made up for us as decisions are taken without ‘us’. 

We should enable the care review to start as we mean it to carry on. We cannot wait until it is announced and react. It will already be too late, and it becomes a case of making something less bad, rather than making it good from the start.

What do we think is wrong? The children’s commissioner sees the system is broken. Is it actually a system at all? The connections you might find in a system are often unconnected. Today too frequently the parts most certainly do not “operate together”.

Imagine how different things would be if childhood, children, and care were at the heart of government. The Care Review needs a wide and deep remit. It needs imagination. A fundamental of the Scottish review was the ambition to be ‘putting love at the heart of the care system’.

Ofsted in their report on fostering matching have just reported that love is what children seek, not just the direct care but in the structures and systems too. Care without love is not care.

The Scottish review was initiated personally by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon making it very clear that she and the review would be accountable to young people in and from care. We call on Boris Johnson to do the same.

As to method, the Care Review needs first to establish the values and principles, then the policy and practice needed, before looking at the pragmatics that it will deliver. A very different conclusion from this theory of change than starting the other way.

The Scottish review did not focus on a child care or child welfare system, but rather on the experiences and well-being of the children. A good childhood for all creates a good childhood for children in care.

The chair, not from the ‘care establishment’ but a woman with lived experience in care and with ‘astute skills of analysis and a fierce sense of accountability to the young people of Scotland’, was clear that the review was not about changing a system, but rather creating new and positive experiences for the young people.

The methodology was ‘emergent’ with four stages (orientation, discovery, journey, and destination). About 2,000 individuals took part in working groups over each stage. It took time, three years, this enabled extensive, effective and meaningful communication and collaboration. Without delay necessary practice changes were initiated.

It clearly is possible for extensive involvement to happen creating a commitment to ongoing change after the formal review process is completed.

The lesson from Scotland is if hearts and minds are changed, behaviour is likely to follow, mobilising people as part of the review means people are likely to be inspired to make the purpose and ambition of the review reality, ‘to have the best care system in the world’.

In our view we should not be aspiring to fix something that is broken but to design something that is a world leading system - “a set of connected things that operate together”. That should be our ambition and we should be saying it with the volume turned up to 11.

Jonathan Stanley is manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, and Ed Nixon is a member of of Every Child Leaving Care Matters

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