Josh MacAlister shares 'dilemmas' faced by Care Review

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A “clean break” with the current structure of the children’s social care system “might allow for something new and better to emerge”, the Care Review chair has said.

MacAlister says the blog is not a 'position statement'. Picture: Frontline
MacAlister says the blog is not a 'position statement'. Picture: Frontline

In a blog presenting “three dilemmas” faced by the review team, MacAlister puts forward a series of “contradictory” statements he says represents “a summary of the divergent messages that we’ve picked up so far” following a raft of engagement events and opportunities offered by the review.

The so-called dilemmas presented by MacAlister include divided opinion on the relationship between support and protection, particularly between families and social workers.

“Professionals have been more likely to tell the review that help and protection needs to be done together on a continuum whereas parents are more likely to tell us that having the same professionals providing help while also holding them to account for protecting their children presents problems,” the blog states.

MacAlister also probes the idea of a national or regional care system, saying it could “address wide and concerning variation in decision making, how children and families are supported and the services they have access to”.

“Furthermore, children’s social care policy has been focussed on improving local authority services yet many of the same problems persist. A clean break with the old might allow for something new and better to emerge.”

However, he adds that councils are “well-established” to deliver children’s social services adding that such a structural change could be “disruptive” for families and “distracting” for social workers.

“Reorganising services from local authorities could have unintended consequences for other important services, such as the housing that care leavers might need or access to special educational needs support,” MacAlister adds.

The review chair reiterates comments made in the project's first report A Case for Change, which proved controversial with social workers, describing children’s social work as “ too prescriptive, bureaucratic and it pulls practitioners away from spending time with children and families”.

However, he appears to row back on the view, saying: “Removing duties, guidance or prescription in a system with wide inconsistency and underlying performance issues could be unsafe for children.”

“Clearer objectives for the system and checks and balances might give us assurance in order to allow a safer reduction in prescription,” he concludes.

MacAlister warns that the blog is “not a position statement” and says the review will share a summary of their work so far in “the coming weeks”.

The Care Review’s final recommendations are due to be published next spring.

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