Review of children's social care system launched

By Lucy Webster
Political reporter, BBC News

Media caption,
Josh MacAlister says the review will engage with ministers and civil servants to form a "radical" plan.

The government has launched an independent review into the children's care sector in England.

It will be lead by a former teacher, Josh MacAlister, who founded the social work charity Frontline in 2013.

It will "raise the bar for vulnerable children across the country", said the Department for Education (DfE).

It will look at every area of the care system, from a child's first referral to social services to outcomes for children leaving care at 18.

In March 2020, 80,080 children were being looked after in the care system in England, up from 64,400 in March 2010, according to DfE figures.

Announcing the review, the department said: "It will address major challenges such as the increase in numbers of looked after children, the inconsistencies in children's social care practice, outcomes across the country, and the failure of the system to provide enough stable homes for children."

It will also look at the "capacity and capability of the system to support and strengthen families in order to prevent children being taken into care unnecessarily".

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the review would "not shy away from exposing problems" and committed it to prioritising the views of those with direct experience of the care system.

Speaking about his appointment, Mr MacAlister told BBC News he had been "really encouraged" by the response to the news from across the political spectrum and care industry bodies.

'Radical' intentions

Reviews were often prompted by "a particular case of a breach where a child has died", he said, adding this "has often been the prism through which we've looked at changes in children's social care before".

Mr MacAlister praised the "very broad terms of reference" the government has set for the review.

"They've not tried to constrain it unnecessarily," he said, adding he wanted to make sure his eventual report "can be implemented, but is radical".

Coram, a charity for vulnerable children, welcomed the review and its emphasis on the views of children and young people.

Dr Carol Homden, its chief executive, said: "The review is timely as we look to build a better future for a digital generation uniquely affected by health concerns.

"The issues are pressing, with record numbers of children being looked after by the state and the impact of the pandemic placing strain on the services needed by so many young people and those who care for them."

Mark Russell, chief executive of the Children's Society, called the review a "golden opportunity" to address the problems of a "stretched" system.

"The shortage of local care placements increases the risk of children going missing and being targeted for criminal and sexual exploitation and we welcome the pledge to address this and ensure all young people have safe and stable homes," he said.

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