In May 2022, Josh MacAlister released the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, a wide-ranging review commissioned by the government designed to answer the following question:
The report made a number of recommendations for changes that should avoid the ‘do nothing’ scenario of over 100,000 children in care at a cost of £15bn within the next decade.
A common theme across the recommendations is the importance of multi-agency collaboration and ownership. Here we present the challenges associated with those requirements, along with suggestions for how to mitigate them.
Report findings and recommendations
A revolution in family help
- Combine ‘Early Help’ and ‘Children in Need’ services into one ‘Family Help’ service, reducing handovers and referrals and providing support earlier in a family’s journey to reduce escalation of need
- Locate multidisciplinary services within trusted local hubs (e.g. youth centres) to improve and destigmatize access, and ensure availability of local community support for families not eligible for local authority support
- Support family units and relationships – recognizing that families may need support but this does not mean there is a child protection issue
- Develop a greater understanding of cultural differences to reduce inequality
- Trusted ‘Family Help’ practitioners will continue to work with families alongside specialist professionals rather than handing them over to a different team
- Develop clear multi-agency responsibility for child protection and safeguarding, and improve information sharing to support collaboration
- Develop the use of the 0-25 approach seen in SEND for children in care to prevent a cliff-edge at 18
- Improve supervision for practicing staff, and reduce individual and regional variation in decision-making
A just and decisive child protection system
Unlocking the potential of family networks
- Move to the use of Family Network Plans rather than placing children in care
- Essential will be flexibility of funding – providing adaptations to property (similar to DFGs in adults’) or payments for relatives who need to reduce working hours.
- Increase the use of Special Guardianship Orders and Child Arrangement Orders for family members, and provide payments equivalent to foster carers, to reduce children becoming looked after outside of their family
- Improve foster care: increase foster carer capacity with a national recruitment drive, make delegated authority assumed and build in more local support networks
- Address usage of residential and IFA organisations (improved planning and commissioning, reduce market risks), and improve quality through increased oversight of Ofsted
- Implement a set of flexible care standards across all care types, focusing on the child having a voice, forming positive relationships and providing care, development and opportunities
- Provide advocates on an opt-out, not opt-in basis
- Phase out young offenders institutions in favour of secure schools and children’s homes
- Levy a windfall tax of 20% of the last 5 years’ profits on major residential and IFA providers
Fixing the broken care market and giving children a voice
A system that is relentlessly focused on children and families
Making change at a national level to support these initiatives, including establishing a National Children’s Social Care Framework, addressing fundamental structures, and setting up a National Data and Technology taskforce to ensure information sharing.
The challenges of multi-agency ownership
Throughout the report, the need for multi-agency collaboration, ownership and responsibility was raised. This presents several challenges, some of which have been addressed in the proposals laid out in the report. In using our proprietary Change Model, we can identify other key considerations that must be made in this area for these changes to succeed.
- Capability: Recommendations include improved career development and training through apprenticeships and frameworks.
- Capacity: Improving efficiency through reduced bureaucracy and paperwork will free up some time for care staff.
- Motivation: The right incentives will need to be in place to align individuals from different organisations (with potentially historically different motivations) around the same goals.
- Tools & processes: Processes will need redesigning with the implementation of the new Family Help model and other recommendations. One key supporting factor not mentioned in the report is the use of technology (beyond case management and data sharing) – much in the same way that this is now impacting in adult social care and health (through physiological and environmental monitoring for example), it should be investigated for children’s social care as a way of freeing up professionals’ time and making key information easy to access.
- Actionable intelligence: staff need to be able to see whether the action they are taking is effective – improvements to data is mentioned in the report, but the creation of usable dashboards and KPI views that can drive action is not.
- Feedback and support: A key improvement recommended was increased and improved supervision of local authority staff. This will help to raise standards and decrease variation. However, extending the improvement to supervision to other organisations would also ensure their staff are aligned with the initiatives.
- Sponsorship: Clear recommendations that DCSs should lead and sponsor these initiatives have been given, however, there will also be strong sponsorship required across all partner organisations as well, which must be addressed at the local level.
- Role clarity: With significant changes in approach and process can come confusion about roles and responsibilities, especially when multiple organisations are involved. Clarifying this across agencies is essential to ensure activity and ownership does not fall between the cracks.
- Results focus: all involved agencies must have the same ‘upward pull’ on the KPIs and results that are monitored to ensure that there is equal weight given across the system, and not just staff in one area driven to results they cannot be wholly responsible for (or this will lead to disillusionment).
- Systems, policies and structures (partially): New policies are part of the report recommendations, and there is the potential that the National Data Taskforce will impact the systems used. However, team structures within local authorities would need amending to reflect the move to Family Help. There may be some structural changes in other organisations as well.
- Vision and aims: How these new missions and recommendations align with existing organisational visions will need to be considered, and then made visible to staff. This will need to be considered at all involved agencies.
- Governance: Multi-agency representation and involvement in system governance will be needed to drive effective action.
- Shared goals: Clear ‘missions’ have been listed and implementation aims set out as part of recommendations.
- Consistent decision-making: The proposed policies, drive to reduce national variation and bringing agencies together should support consistency of decision-making.
- Data sharing: The proposed National Data and Technology Taskforce will have a key aim of improving data sharing.
- Communication: How communication is aligned and used effectively is a core part of implementing these recommendations successfully. There will need to be collaboration between agency comms (potentially managed centrally by region) to ensure consistency of message throughout all agencies to staff, and to local communities.
To see the full report (The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, 2022), click here. If you would like more information about how we use our change model to improve public services, drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org