In this blog, Polly Radcliffe reflects on the relevance of the recent Independent Review of Children’s Social Care for parents who use drugs and their children who are in kinship, foster and residential care.
Announced in January 2021, the final report of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care was published in May 2022 (1). The review process invited evidence and advice from a range of experts, including consultation with people who had lived experience of children’s social care, and practitioners. Framed as part of the UK government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, and led by Josh MacAlister, formerly CEO of Frontline, the fast-track provider of training for the children’s social care workforce, the review undertook to contribute to ‘ambitious and deliverable reforms’ in children’s social care (2). Its terms of reference included exploring how the children’s social care system responds to children who are referred to it, from children receiving early help to looked after children.
Writing in Community Care in May 2021, Professor of Social Work, Paul Bywaters – a member of the expert evidence group for the review – welcomed the opportunity the review afforded to reform children’s social care, which he said had become overly focused on identifying risks to children rather than providing a service to families, ‘causing huge collateral damage and distorting expenditure by slashing prevention’ (3). Many of the children caught up in the care system have parents who use substances. Twenty-one per cent (nearly 30,000) of people starting treatment in England in 2020-21 were parents who were not living with their children, and of women receiving treatment for opioid use, 28% were parents not living with their children (4). The Relations Study team are particularly interested in how the recommendations of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care might affect these parents and their children who are in kinship, foster and residential care.
Multidisciplinary Family Help
Notable in the review’s more than 70 recommendations are proposals to invest in multidisciplinary Family Help teams which include substance use as well as mental health and domestic abuse specialists working alongside child protection experts. While the Independent Review fails to refer explicitly to the austerity policies that have entailed cuts in public services and reductions in welfare benefits for vulnerable families, it does acknowledge the links between substance use and deprivation, and supports Carol Black’s (5,6) recommendations for investment in and rebuilding of substance use treatment services in England (1). However, the government’s insistence that the Independent Review’s recommended changes to children’s social care should be cost neutral has led commentators to express concern that it may ultimately be set up to fail children and their families, undermining its ambition for a child welfare system designed to support children to live safely within their families (7)
Several of the Review’s recommendations have met with a mixed reception. There has been controversy surrounding the proposal to abolish the role of Independent Reviewing Officer, whose responsibility it has been to monitor the care plans of children in out of home placements (8). Similarly, it is feared that the proposal for foster carers to be given a new delegated authority to make decisions about children in their care, will unnecessarily undermine the rights of parents (9). Meanwhile, the proposal that councils should make a financial allowance to kinship carers and special guardians equivalent to that given to foster carers, has been roundly welcomed as a measure that will more fairly reward kinship carers. It remains to be seen which of the Independent Review recommendations the government will take forward in the coming months and what may be the consequences for the care of children whose parents use and are receiving treatment for substances.