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UK launches long-term strategy to improve children’s social care

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Vulnerable children will be better supported to stay with their families in safe and loving homes, as part of an overhaul of children’s social care.

Backed by £200 million over the next two years, a new, ambitious and wide-ranging Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy will transform the current care system to focus on more early support for families, reducing the need for crisis response at a later stage.

The plan responds to recommendations made by three independent reviews by Josh MacAlister, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel into the tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The findings revealed the current care system is often fragmented, siloed, and struggling to meet the needs of children and families across England.

Families will receive local early help and intervention with challenges such as addiction, domestic abuse or mental health, to help families to stay together where possible and overcome adversity. This will start in 12 local authorities and is backed by £45m to embed a best practice model that will then be shared more widely.

Children who grow up in loving, stable homes tend to have better outcomes, which is why the proposals put relationships at the heart of the care system and prioritise family-like placements where a child can no longer live with their parents. Kinship care, where a child is placed with a relative or close family friend, will be prioritised by simplifying the process and providing more support to extended families, such as grandparents, aunties, uncles and others. Recognising the transition within a family can be challenging for all involved, the government will also provide training and support to kinship carers.

Foster carers will also see an above-inflation increase in their allowance to help cover the increasing costs of caring for a child in their home, in recognition of the brilliant care they provide to children. This is alongside £25 million over the next two years on a recruitment and retention programme, which is the largest investment in recent history, helping to attract more people to offer a loving home for children in need. Depending on local need, foster care recruitment will focus on areas where there is a particular shortage of placements for children such as sibling groups, teenagers, unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC), those that have suffered complex trauma or parent and child foster homes.

Today’s announcement echoes the Prime Minister’s intention to better support all families, as evidence shows that strong, supportive families make for more stable communities and happier individuals.

Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho said:

Children in care deserve the same love and stability as everyone else. Yet we’ve seen from the two tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson that more needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable children.

Our wide-ranging reforms will put strong relationships at are the heart of the care system. From supporting our brilliant foster carers, kinship carers and social workers to getting early help to families and improving children’s homes, we want every child to get the support and protection they need.

Measures announced today in the strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love, include:

Introducing more effective, joined-up family help for those that are struggling.

Up to 12 local areas will get over £45m to test a new approach to Family Help to provide increased, evidence-based support for families to overcome issues to prevent problems from escalating. In a welcoming and non-judgemental way, the new service will help families with issues such as domestic abuse or poor mental health, giving them access to local support with the focus on the help they need rather than bureaucratic boundaries and assessments between services and professionals.

Where a child is at risk of harm, experts will intervene swiftly and decisively to protect them.

A new Child Protection Lead Practitioner role will have advanced, specialist training, and will work in a fully joined up way with other services such as the police, to better identify and respond to significant harm. The change will mean services work more effectively to protect children from harms that happen outside of the home, such as criminal exploitation and serious violence.

Harnessing the value of family networks by supporting the kinship care system.

There will be a focus on improved support and reducing barriers to kinship care, including investing £9 million in a kinship care training and support offer for all kinship carers. The government will explore the case for a new financial allowance, possible additional workplace entitlements and options for an extension of legal aid for kinship carers who become Special Guardians or who hold Child Arrangement Orders.

Transforming the experiences of children in care and care leavers, by prioritising children in care living in homes close to their family, friends, communities and schools.

In addition to the recruitment programme and the above inflation increase to allowances, the government is investing £30m in family finding, befriending and mentoring programmes to support children in care and care leavers to find and maintain loving relationships.  The government will also increase the leaving care allowance from £2,000 to £3,000 from April this year, an above inflation increase to help them set up home independently. For care leavers undertaking apprenticeships, there will be an increase to the bursary available from £1000 to £3,000.

Expanding and strengthening the children’s social care workforce.

Local authorities will be supported to recruit up to 500 new child and family social worker apprentices and there will be consultation on proposals to reduce over-reliance on agency social workers. The government will also introduce a new Early Career Framework for social workers that will make sure that social workers have the knowledge and skills they need to support and protect children.

Setting clearer direction for everyone who works in the system, through a new Children’s Social Care National Framework and Dashboard.

The National Framework, published today for consultation, sets out clear outcomes that should be achieved across all local authorities to improve the lives of children and families, raising the quality of practice across the country.

The government has now reached its target to reduce the number of children’s social care services judged to be ‘Inadequate’ to 10% or lower. This collective effort from government and the Children’s Social Care sector, has halved failure rates across the country within five years, bringing improved standards for thousands of children and families across the country. The strategy builds on this work, to support more children within the care system.

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