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Children's social care

Catch22 responds to the Children’s Social Care Strategy

A mother and child, wearing padded coats, walk towards the door of a house or building.

Last week the Government announced its Children’s Social Care Strategy. Catch22 has been looking forward to the government’s strategy response in relation to three reviews:

The Children and Care sector had high hopes for this strategy which was billed as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get it right for children. It is regrettable then that the announced £200 million over 2 years falls significantly short of the recommendation for £4.1 to £4.5 billion for children’s services each year made by directors of children’s services in 2021 and amounts to only 10% of the £2.6 billion over a 5 year period recommended by MacAlister in 2022. Leeds City Council alone spends £120 million a year on children’s care services- a number which clearly demonstrates how inadequate £200 million over 2 years is to cover the unmet needs of children’s care across the nation.

We are pleased to see families will receive local early help and intervention with challenges such as addiction, domestic abuse, or mental health, to help families stay together where possible and overcome adversity. In our experience children who stay with family members rather than going into care tend to have better outcomes in the long term, mentally, physically, and in other areas of development. The extra support and recognition for kinship carers will also help foster a culture of different expectations and better cooperation between services and wider family networks. This will help root children in their own communities rather than tearing them away from the only environment and people they know.

It is also positive to see the focus around strengthening corporate parenting – this has the potential to make a real difference to care experienced young people in many areas of their lives. We want to see this put into legislation to ensure it is upheld in practice and not just in theory.

However, we must note the continuous effect of the cost-of-living crisis and the impact it has on care experienced young people. It is right that carers receive an above-inflation increase in their allowance but we would like to see a similar response to the impact of the cost of living on care experienced young people that we outlined in our report and see the government commit to increasing levels of Universal Credit for 18-25 year old care experienced young people. If we want children and families to receive services that will prevent them from ending up in care and will help them remain within their family network the government needs to urgently address the depleted workforce in children’s care, which is currently hanging with a 17% vacancy rate.

In our work through the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum around young people leaving care, we have seen a positive momentum and change around Josh MacAlister’s 5 missions for care experienced people and we want to ensure this focus and drive is not lost in the new proposed missions. We are worried that as local authorities are already spending nearly £2bn less on early interventions than they did a decade ago the issues of inadequate resources to give full support to children and families in need will not be addressed without appropriate levels of funding. The MacAlister review asked for 9000 extra foster carers, the government’s allocated £25 million is near certainly impossibly low to cover them. We are concerned that this will mean more children and young adults placed in inadequate supported accommodation rather than appropriate foster homes with wraparound support. The government has recognised that we need more carers and better resources but have not committed the equivalent resources for councils which have already been forced to reduce services heavily.

We have yet to see the political and financial commitment that is needed to truly address the needs of children in care and care experienced young people. We are looking forward to digesting the government’s response across Catch22’s services and with leaving care professionals and care experienced young people who are part of the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum.

– Hannah McCowen, Manager of the National Leaving Benchmarking Forum