Government needs to ‘level up’ the system for children in care

Lynn Perry
Friday, May 20, 2022

The care system exists to support children who cannot live with their birth parents or do not have a stable and supportive home life.

Lynn Perry is chief executive at Barnardo's. Picture: Barnardo's
Lynn Perry is chief executive at Barnardo's. Picture: Barnardo's

At its best it can protect children from harm and help them recover from traumatic early experiences. 

At Barnardo’s, we know from our direct experience supporting thousands of children in care across the UK that one of the greatest challenges they face is still instability. For far too many children, living in care can feel like being ‘bounced around’ a system, with frequent changes of home leaving them feeling endlessly unsettled.

In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson spoke of a need to “level up across Britain”. I firmly believe that for this vision to succeed we need to achieve lasting change for the country’s most vulnerable children – by stepping in earlier to help families who are struggling, and by improving support for children who do need to be placed with a foster family or in residential care.

The number of children in care now sits at a record high of over 80,000 in England alone, and many of these young people carry burdens that young shoulders shouldn’t have to bear. They are three times less likely to be in education, employment or training by the time they reach 19 and nearly half of children in care have a mental health disorder. We cannot tackle this inequality without making sure that effective early support is at the heart of the care system. 

The Government is in the process of reviewing the children’s social care system in England which is due to be published shortly. We now have a unique, once in a generation opportunity to give these children the same opportunities as we expect for our own children.

With the impact of the pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis threatening their future prospects, urgent support for families has never been more needed.

Children and young people are taken into care when they cannot remain at home. This is either because it is unsafe for them to be there, or because their parents are unable to look after them. Some of the most common reasons for a child or young person being taken into care include abuse, neglect, family breakdown or a parent or child’s illness or disability.

Through the work of our family hubs, we know it is possible to help families to access crucial support before things reach crisis point. The key is early support. We want to see the Government provide more early support for the country’s most vulnerable families: so that children can have safer childhoods and more positive futures.

Early support also makes sound financial sense. Barnardo’s research shows that providing intensive and tailored support to families through community-based family hubs can save the taxpayer millions of pounds a year, and most critically, lead to better futures for children and families.

We pride ourselves on being a caring country. A country that supports its most vulnerable. It cannot be right, therefore, that children growing up in care are much less likely to gain good qualifications, enter employment, or have good mental health. It cannot be right that children who experience the care system are more likely to become homeless or end up in prison. It cannot be right that, during their most unsettled moments, children in care can be passed from pillar to post. And it cannot be right that we, as a society, allow all this and more to happen without demanding change.

Correcting this fundamental inequality for children in care is a major undertaking. However, if the Government can get the system of care and support right for these children, then we can truly start to ‘level up’ opportunities for all, right across the country.

Lynn Perry is chief executive of Barnardo’s

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