BASW England raise further deep concerns on how the Review of Children’s Social Care will be conducted.
Our concerns follow recently shared documents in the public domain of the contract award notice by the Department for Education published online.
This raises critical concerns on how the review will be conducted. Our concerns are:
1. That the contract sets out that any recommendations from the review which require additional or new government funding must be offset by savings elsewhere.
BASW England is concerned that the government will not support any recommendations that seek to secure extra funding for children and families made within the context of the Children’s Review of Social Care.
Given that any such spending needs to be justified by future cost savings, this means that already cash-strapped services cannot expect to receive the public funds required to meet the needs and secure the rights of children and families.
A decade of austerity has had a devastating impact on children and families, with social workers already struggling to navigate increasingly complex safeguarding, needs and rights-based challenges with rising demand and inadequate resources.
In 2011, there were 65,520 looked-after children – a number which rose to over 80,000 by the end of March 2020.
The care system has the potential to be transformative for children and young people when a high level of support is provided. With the absence of vital funding the implications can last a lifetime, with care leavers past and present having experienced disproportionate levels of homelessness, poor education, marginalisation, and poverty.
2. There are provisions within the contract which are at odds with public statements previously made by the government and Mr MacAlister.
Content within the contract could undermine the impartiality of the review, most notably the direction to ‘not embarrass the Department or (ii) bring the Department into disrepute by engaging in any act or omission in relation to this Contract which is reasonably likely to diminish the trust that the public places in the Department’.
There is a risk that the reputation of the government is prioritised over the needs of the sector’s most vulnerable children. This is at odds with the initial statement that the review would be ‘bold, wide-ranging, and … [one which would] not shy away from exposing problems where they exist’.
Furthermore, the promised collaborative approach of the review is now in serious doubt; the contract makes no reference as to how the Experts by Experience Board will be involved in analysing evidence and most crucially, drafting recommendations. Our concern is that by not explicitly addressing this point there will be no requirement to listen and to and utilise the voices of people with lived experience.
BASW England strongly believes that those with lived experience should be at the very heart of the review.
3. The contract does not require the review to consider the views of the social work profession, despite the wealth of experience available from practitioners who have frontline experience across the sector.
Social workers are at the heart of children’s social care and over 30,000 social workers are in statutory children’s services. BASW represents the strong and independent voice of over 22,000 members including a high proportion with collective expertise in children’s social care. It is vital that the valuable experience and expertise of social workers is recognised.
4. Review timescales remain the same – very short - yet the scope is even wider than previously described. It will now include the family court, legal issues, and children’s experiences of the youth justice system.
While the government continues to proceed at speed to undertake this wide-ranging review, the contract reveals it now includes the family court, legal issues, and children’s experiences of the youth justice system.
BASW England wrote to The Secretary of State for Education on 19th February 2021 setting out our key asks of the review, including to defer the commencement of the review and extend its time frame to allow for true consideration, inclusion and consultation. It is disappointing that our letter has not even been acknowledged.
BASW England remains committed to engaging with the review and are keen to meet with the chair to discuss how best to work in partnership.
We will be writing to the secretary of state to detail our concerns.
The government must invest in the most vulnerable children in society, who are our future, without limitations.
Now is the time for meaningful action communicated transparently and openly.