Children England responds to the government's plan for children's social care reform

We are pleased to be able to join our members in welcoming developments they have long called for, including a strategy for kinship carers that recognises their importance with training, support and financial allowances. We hope young care experienced people’s transition to adulthood will no longer be an abrupt withdrawal of support, with the government’s commitment to strengthen Staying Put and make Staying Close a national entitlement, as well as increasing care leavers’ allowances and exploring new mental health support. This recognition of young people’s ongoing need for support networks is completely at odds with the government’s continued commitment to creating standards for ‘supported accommodation’ that preclude care itself, and we will continue to support the campaign to #KeepCaringTo18.

Having struggled to see the Care Review proposals for Regional Care Cooperatives as a decisive solution to the many deep problems identified in the care market, we are relieved that they won’t be implemented as a whole system change forced upon all areas. However, the fact that selected areas will be able to voluntarily form RCCs, and will receive both set-up and capital resource from central government to do so, while so many other areas of the country won’t, simply cannot be described as a decisive intervention to reform the whole dysfunctional care market. Where the plan addresses market oversight and regulation, it again relies on voluntary and selective oversight of private firms by Ofsted, if those firms agree - falling far short of the kind of market regulation and oversight described as vital by the CMA to intervene in and curb the power imbalances, excesses and risks in the marketplace. Proposing that RCCs also have a market oversight role, despite their role in the market (as the primary commissioners and paying customers for care), and despite the fact that in many areas there will be no RCC, is simply incoherent.

Whilst the social care implementation plan makes repeated reference to the local, universal services that families all rely on at some point, and with which new Family Help programmes must be linked, it apparently fails to recognise the strain these services themselves are under, with workforces such as health visitors depleted and children’s centres having closed in their hundreds over the past decade. Local authorities, as the holders of social care duties to children, are conspicuously overlooked when it comes to the investment that this plan needs if the many individual strands of activity and pots of funding are to be held together and enabled to take a holistic approach to children’s lives.

With local government describing a £1.6bn shortfall each year, the plan’s offer of £200 million over two years to 'fix' the whole system is frankly insulting, especially when so much of it will go only to handfuls of authorities, leaving a great many without any significant new funds at all. Piecemeal funding is inherently unsystematic, and will never achieve system-wide reform, instead exacerbating regional inequalities. The plan’s brief reference to consulting with other departments on a funding formula for children and young people’s services could be the commitment councils across the country so desperately need - but they cannot afford to wait two years until the next Spending Review. 

There can be no transformation of a system for children without transformational public investment in children. So while we will continue to support some of the important ambitions described for children, and the loving care they so rightly deserve, it is hard to see in this plan any of the urgency and scale of reform and investment required from government if those ambitions are to become children’s realities.