The children’s social care system needs a “radical reset” to stop the “cycle of escalating problems”, the leader of a review into the sector has warned.
Josh MacAlister, a former teacher who led the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, is calling for a “five-year comprehensive ambitious reform and investment programme” to improve the lives of children in care and their families.
The review has made more than 80 recommendations, including calls to rebalance resources “to back those who care for and love children”.
Mr MacAlister told the PA news agency that the review was launched because of “widespread recognition” that outcomes for children in care and families who face lots of challenges are “far too poor” and that without change “costs will rise”.
He said: “What we found is that this is a system – the children’s social care system – that needs a radical reset because, at the moment, it is in a cycle where problems escalate, costs rise, outcomes continue to be too poor and that’s getting worse and worse over time.
“What we need to do is to tilt the system firmly back to supporting the adults, the carers, the parents, the families who love their children.”
Mr MacAlister said those working on the review, which began in March 2021, started by listening to people who have first-hand experience of the system, including children in care, young adults who were in care, grandparents, foster carers and parents.
He said: “What’s been hopeful about the review process is meeting thousands of people who are working in the system who are desperate to see change happen, and examples right the way across the country of people doing things differently for children and families.
“What we’re trying to do through the review is mainstream those ideas, bring them into the centre stage.
“Lots of the solutions to the problems we see are bottom-up – the report is filled to the brim with great examples of things that are being done.
“The problem is they’re being done despite the system – not because of it.”
Mr MacAlister also said costs can be saved in the long run if the government invests in change now.
He said when children grow up without lifelong loving connections and when families are not supported, the social costs later down the line are “enormous”.
“It’s why we’re calling for a five-year comprehensive ambitious reform and investment programme so that we can set this system up to succeed for the hundreds of thousands of children and families who need it,” he said.
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The review has calculated the costs of adverse outcomes for the social care system as £23 billion a year and is suggesting an investment of £2.6 billion over the next five years to reform the system and “reduce long-term costs”, Mr MacAlister said.
“The option for the government is simple; either carry on as we are limping forward, into 2032, where we’ve got nearly 100,000 children in care, with costs of £15 billion a year, up from about £10 billion at the moment, or invest really smartly now in an ambitious programme of change so that we can improve outcomes and make the system more sustainable,” he added.
Mr MacAlister said “it’s too soon” to tell if the government will take on the recommendations or provide the funding.
But he added: “The argument is really clearly put, which is that if the government don’t invest, if the government don’t pursue a big change programme, we will end up in a more costly situation in the years ahead, and outcomes will be significantly worse.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the government is ready to meet the challenge and will publish plans for “bold and ambitious change” in the coming months.
On Monday, Mr Zahawi tweeted: “This is the start of a journey to change the culture and dramatically reform the children’s social care system.”
Asked if he accepts the government is going to take the review seriously, Mr MacAlister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That’s a really positive message. And the review’s worked closely with government over the last few months so that they’re ready to take the recommendations on board and act on them."
Responding to the review, the government did not immediately commit to most of the recommendations but said they would be considered in the longer term.