We need a care system review to ensure unregulated provision changes have maximum impact

Chris Wright
Monday, June 8, 2020

Nearly 10 years ago, Eileen Munro undertook her review of child protection.

She called for a more child-centred system then, but a decade on we are still working with overly transactional services and children who are passed from professional to professional, with boxes ticked and paperwork filed.

We have just responded to the Department for Education’s consultation: Reforms to unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers. We worked with our National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum and The Young People’s Benchmarking Forum to collect the views of frontline local authority leaving care teams as well as young care leavers to inform the response.

Good public services are built around three principles: being more human through effective relationships, unlocking social and financial capacity, and being locally responsive. The system as it stands continues to result in poor outcomes for too many who have experience of the care system. This failure results in poor health, a lack of housing or unstable employment, costs the taxpayer and is detrimental for communities and individuals.

Among many things, we want to see a ban on the use of independent and semi-independent provision for under-16s. But that age limit shouldn’t assume that 17 or 18 year olds succeed in these placements – the majority do not; care leavers are currently estimated to represent around 25 per cent of the adult prison population, and 25 per cent of the recorded homeless population have been in care at some point.

This consultation if acted on could go some way to addressing this. However, we strongly believe that it will not have the impact it could without a thorough cross-government review of the care system. If we alter just one part, without considering where it fits within the whole, then there will be unintended consequences elsewhere, such as placing extra strain on an already cracked residential care system.

In the above issue, for example, viewing young people as one homogenous group before and after their sixteenth birthday, without taking into account individual needs does not work. A one size fits all approach never succeeds.

Now is an important opportunity to take stock and refocus priorities on what really makes a difference to children’s lives: relationships. We know strong and meaningful relationships – built around trust and empathy, which are honest and provide boundaries where necessary – are the most important factor in transforming the lives of children and young people.

We’ve been working on ways to reform the system. Catch22 has been supporting Lighthouse as they develop a new model of residential care in the UK. It’s an excellent example of the kind of reform we need; an environment closer to a family home, therapeutic and evidence-based practice, long-term support, and the recruitment of excellent people to work with the most vulnerable children, with better pay and training. The model aims to provide the kind of relationship a non-care-leaver would have with their own parents as they enter adult life.

The relationships with young people and between all services must improve. There is a chronic lack of information sharing, not just between police and local authorities, but across the board. All agencies must be involved in decision making on a young person – including health workers and teachers – so that no decision is made without the full context, which can have a lasting impact on the life of a young person.

Young people need to be prepared for living successful lives and need to be careful not to confuse independent living with living without connectivity. If we have a landscape of provision based on a silo of needs, it does not take account for how an individual's needs change over time and with circumstance. We are not an independent species and adults rarely lead entirely independent lives; we should not expect young people to do the same when defining their ‘care’.

Chris Wright is chief executive of social business Catch22

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