You can listen to ⁦@annelongfield⁩’s speech about the future of children’s social care live on YouTube now. We’ll also be hearing from children in care about their experiences.
"It’s over thirty years since Parliament passed the Children Act, giving all local authorities a statutory duty to provide help to any child who needed it to maintain 'a normal standard of health and development' - and to provide this help in a way that works with families."
"For many of these children, the care system HAS protected them and they HAVE had the stability, love and the support they needed. They have had rewarding childhoods - helped along the way by dedicated, caring professionals, who often go above and beyond what the job asks."
"But we also know that there are too many children who are being failed. The truth is while the state can be a great parent – it can also be a really bad one. In fact, sometimes so negligent that it would risk having its children taken into care if it was an actual parent."
"It is a system that has not kept up with the changing cohort of children entering it, and which is rapidly running out of money. And without urgent reform, and better funding, it will fail more children."
"We do now have a better idea of what’s happening to children in the care system, and those on the edge. And that data doesn’t tell a happy story. For example, last year there were 8,000 children in care who were moved twice or more – that’s three or more “homes” in one year ."
"Of course, there are so many brilliant examples of children who have thrived in care – remarkable achievements that inspire us and that we should celebrate.

But these stories are not as common as they should be."
"While we need a care system that protects vulnerable children, it should also do more to support the families of those children."
"So often I hear from children in care and care leavers talk about how their families never received the help they needed, and how different things might have been if they had."
I’m always struck by the resilience and positivity of children in care. Yet they have to deal with unbelievable bureaucracy just to do the same things children who aren’t in care take for granted – like going on a sleepover at a friend’s house or a school trip.
There are also those children that the system really struggles to accommodate – it treats them as a risk to be managed, not a life to be lived. Despite the best efforts of some staff, these children can experience a system devoid of empathy, compassion and love.
This is not a system that is empowering most children.
That is why I pushed all the political parties to include a commitment to an independent and robust review of the care system in their election manifestos. I was pleased they did, and now this Government must deliver.
There are 80,000 children in care in England – equivalent to the population of the City of Bath. 400,000 children have a social worker – nearly the population of Newcastle. And over the past six years, 1.6m children in England have needed a social worker at some point.
These numbers bring home how important it is to get rid of the stigma around care. One in eight children in England will need a social worker at some point in their life - this is no longer an uncommon occurrence.
The state is providing this help in an inconsistent way -children are not receiving the outcomes they should. We know that 1.6m children have reached the threshold for statutory intervention in the past 6 years, yet just 17% of these children go on to pass English/Maths.
Research from my office suggests only a tiny proportion of children who need support from social services, actually get any. The reason for that is often financial.
I’ve spent the last few years arguing for better funding for children’s social care. Currently, spending is more than £9bn a year. This is a lot of money. For context it is about two thirds of the police budget for 2020/21.
But over the last decade, it has fallen by about 16%, while referrals have increased by more than 100% . The result is that last year local authorities overspent on children’s services by around £800m .
To stand still, children’s social care will need an additional £3-4bn per year over the next 4 years . More and more of this spending is going on fewer and fewer children.
It makes no sense that we spend hundreds of millions more on children’s homes , but we spend a billion less on Sure Start – at a time when families and children tell us they want more support.
Despite soaring costs over the past two decades, the story of the care system is still: not enough help, early enough, which is leaving children and families to tip into crisis.
And things are now on a precipice with council revenues hit by Covid.
Next year is a real crunch point, with council revenues hit by Covid-19, just as families are facing the biggest economic shock in a generation. Unless emergency funding is granted in this one-year spending review, family services will be in deep trouble.
Covid has shone a light on the needs of vulnerable children and forced some to confront what happens when you strip away basic support such as health visitors and social work visits. It has also put a focus on the importance of free school meals, the scandal of food poverty.
This is a golden opportunity for the Government to improve the experiences and outcomes of vulnerable children in the care system, through the care review.
It should start by looking at what we know works, when it’s done properly: Consistent work with families by designated keyworkers; Loving foster families, including specialist foster care for children who need extra help; For some children, it is high quality children’s homes;
A trusted, stable relationship with an adult who won’t give up on the child; Parenting support; Family therapy and mental health support for both children and parents; Speech and language therapy; And involving children in decisions made about their care.
Secondly, the review must recognise the importance of families. Social care is not just about replacing parenting but supporting it. It needs to consider the fundamental nature of the relationship between the state and the family.
It needs to answer the question: how can a care system work alongside families so we have a more collaborative way of helping these children flourish?
The review also needs to hardwire permanency and stability into everyday decision making. Whether a child is with their family, a new adopted family or in the care system, they need stability and permanency.
The review should also consider whole packages of support.

Social workers do many great things, but they can’t do everything. In reality, the success of any help will depend on other services like housing, education, healthcare, and financial stability.
The review should propose moving from a reactive safeguarding system, whereby different services identify risks to children and notify the local authority, to a proactive one, where agencies come together, identify the needs of children and plan together to meet these needs.
It should also consider a national care system. I want decisions to be taken locally, involving families. But some issues need to be tackled nationally, and all children should be entitled to the same standard of care.
The review should look at how to empower children in the care system. We need to do more than just give children a say in decisions that affect their life – from the everyday to the life-changing - but to feel confident that their say really counts.
While the Children Act enshrines the importance of children’s wishes and feelings as a central consideration, too often children’s experiences of care is one of having things done ‘to them’ not ‘with them’.
We have to start listening to them and I want the care review to recommend how we can move from legislative principle to everyday practice, so that children’s rights are embedded in all aspects of decision making.
there will always be children who need the state to step in and protect them. No child should ever been seen as too complicated to help, or someone that nobody knows what to do with. People in the system have said this to me and I’m not prepared to accept it.
We know there is so much high-quality care out there – my office did a virtual visit recently to a secure children’s home where all the children were really positive about their experiences.
So let’s build a system where those experiences are standard. A system which recognises each families’ unique situation and responds to the need of every child, wherever they are in the country, with the same standards of protection and support.
A system that pays more attention to the everyday experiences of children in care, that can increase capacity to support the most vulnerable children, that improves the life-prospects of children, and that helps those children currently ignored altogether.
I often talk about the choices facing politicians – and this is one of them. You know the system is failing thousands of children, you know it needs urgent reform and you know it can’t survive for much longer without serious investment.
Will you apply a sticking plaster? Or will you stand up for the thousands of children who are in your care and do what needs to be done, so that every child is not just protected, but also given the support the need to live their best life?
The decision you make will shape the lives of hundreds of thousands of children for decades to come.


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21 Oct
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