Once in a lifetime opportunity to address inequalities for children in care

Lynn Perry
Friday, February 17, 2023

The care system exists to support children who cannot live with their birth parents.

Lynn Perry is chief executive of Barnardo's. Picture: Barnado's
Lynn Perry is chief executive of Barnardo's. Picture: Barnado's

At its best it can protect children from harm and help them recover from traumatic early experiences, but, despite the best efforts of many passionate and dedicated professionals, the system is in crisis, and too often children are being failed.   

Children who grow up in care often carry burdens that young shoulders shouldn’t have to bear. Nearly half have a mental health disorder, and children in care are three times less likely to be in education, employment or training by the time they reach 19. It cannot be right that we, as a society, allow all this and more to happen without demanding change.    

One of the greatest challenges facing children in care is instability. For too many children, growing up in care can feel like being “passed around from pillar to post”, with frequent changes of home, school and social worker. This makes it harder to maintain relationships and leads to young people feeling unsettled, with no clear sense of community.   

We urgently need better support for families when they first encounter challenges, as well as support for children who do need to be in foster care or residential care, right from the start of their journey through to when they leave and take their first steps into adulthood.    

The government recently published its response to the independent review earlier this year, promising to 'fix’ children’s social care, with transformative plans that put families at the heart of reform.   

At Barnardo’s we welcome much of the government’s intent. This includes the commitment to help families before they reach crisis point, the focus on family and love and the importance of having a safe, stable and reliable place to call home.   

However, these plans must be a turning point, and in order to succeed, they must be backed by substantial, long-term investment.  

Unfortunately, the £200 million funding pledged is much too little to make a serious dent. Even prior to inflation, analysis by the Local Government Association found a shortfall of £1.6 billion per year just to maintain current service levels.    

The government must commit to urgent and significant investment, to achieve the transformative change we need. Without stabilising children’s social care, the system will continue to head towards crisis, with mounting costs and rising need, exacerbated by the legacy of Covid and now the sky-high cost of living.   

Right now, we have a unique, once in a generation opportunity to make sure children in care have the same opportunities as we expect for our own children. But we need bold action to make this a reality.  

Lynn Perry is chief executive of Barnardo’s   

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