Children's commissioner for England calls for urgent improvements to care system

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Investment in residential care, increased mental health support and more benefits for care leavers are paramount to improving provision for children in care, according to the children’s commissioner for England.

Dame Rachel de Souza has called on the Care Review to take on board her recommendations. Picture: Office of the children's commissioner for England
Dame Rachel de Souza has called on the Care Review to take on board her recommendations. Picture: Office of the children's commissioner for England

The recommendations come as part of the results of Dame Rachel de Souza’s Big Ask survey which questioned more than half a million children aged four to 17 about their lives, including 3,800 children in care and 13,000 people with a social worker.

It finds that children in care are more likely than their peers who are not in care to be unhappy with their mental health, family life and life at school.

Some 61 per cent of nine- to 17-year-olds in care said they are happy with their lives compared with 71 per cent of those not in care of the same age group.

Of those in care who said they are unhappy with their lives, a fifth said their biggest concern was their mental health and 17 per cent said they are unhappy with life at school or college.

When asked about family life, 12 per cent of children in care are unhappy, compared with six per cent of other children.

De Souza has called on the government to make “urgent” improvements to support for children in care including more funding for children’s homes, targeted mental health support and reforms to Universal Credit for care leavers.

Investment in residential care “would enable more children to get a good‑quality home, near to their original home and with high‑quality therapeutic provision provided,” she said, while calling for “measures that could be taken to improve children in care’s access to mental health support and better in‑school help including more mental health professionals working within the care system and wider use of trauma informed practice”.

“Children need to be given genuine agency over their own lives and decisions that affect them, backed up by the confidence that the support they need will be there for them. That they can rely on relationships they have developed and that they can plan for the future. This means support up to, and beyond, 18,” the report states.

“These are big questions for the independent Care Review to address. The children’s commissioner will be involved in this and arguing for these principles to be front and centre of the final report. Once these recommendations are made, we will be focusing on how these changes can be applied across the care system.”

Overall, the Big Ask found that girls are twice as likely to be unhappy with their mental health than boys.

The majority of children said they are happy with their family life but children who are unhappy in that area are nine times more likely to be unhappy with life overall.

Meanwhile, 57 per cent of children from deprived areas said leaving school with a good education was one of their most important priorities.

De Souza said children who had taken part in the project showed “how resilient, consistent, optimistic, and thoughtful they are, even those most vulnerable and from deprived backgrounds”. 

“The voice of half a million children gives me, and those in my team, a road map for how we continue to build a brighter future for childhood in England, not just in the aftermath of the pandemic but for the long term. I hope the Big Answer will be the foundation for a truly transformative period for a generation who are far from ‘lost’ and need all of us to help build them the future they most certainly deserve,” she added.

Responding to the report, Care Review chair Josh MacAllister said: “Important messages from children in care and children with social workers included in this report. Lots that chimes with what we've heard from hundreds of children and young people at the Care Review.”

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