Out-Law News 2 min. read

Review calls for overhaul of child social care system in England

A windfall tax should be imposed on the 15 largest providers of children’s care homes and foster care services in England to help pay for an overhaul of the way children’s social care is provided, a review commissioned by the UK government has recommended.

The independent review of children’s social care found that the current system is “increasingly skewed to crisis intervention, with outcomes for children that continue to be unacceptably poor and costs that continue to rise”. It warned that it there is not “a dramatic whole system reset”, an extra 20,000 children could be in care in England by 2032 compared to the 80,000 who are now, and that the annual cost of the system could rise to over £15 billion at that point, from £10bn currently.

At the heart of the review’s recommendations for reform are plans to “fundamentally change the way children’s homes, foster care and secure accommodation are commissioned, recruited to, managed and run”. To “transform the care that is available for children when they need it”, the review has proposed the establishment of ‘regional care cooperatives’ (RCCs).

Under the plans, RCCs would be engaged in planning for future needs; operating and establishing new public sector fostering, residential and secure care services in their region, and; commissioning not-for-profit and private sector care provision. Local authorities would “have direct involvement in the running of RCCs” and children would remain under their care.

The review said: “Care needs to be more tailored for teenagers (the fastest growing group entering care), less binary for children who can continue to safely see their families, and significantly better at keeping children close to their community, school, friends and brothers and sisters. Delivering this level of transformation within an already overwhelmed system will require excellent planning, long term investment in future models of care, and dedicated leadership. We have concluded that this transformation needs to be delivered by new dedicated bodies.”

The review, which was led by Josh MacAlister, a former teacher and founder of the social care charity Frontline, envisages that RCCs will help to provide a better balance in the supply of children’s care services and reduce profiteering.

Many of the review’s recommendations are also aimed at helping children stay within their birth family network when they need care, where this is appropriate. The measures proposed include “a new statutory financial allowance, legal aid and statutory kinship leave” for special guardians and kinship carers with a Child Arrangement Order. The review said “a comprehensive support package” should be made available to “a wider set of informal kinship carers” too.

According to the review, significant investment is needed to support local authorities in delivering the changes it says are needed. It has called for £2.6 billion of “new spending over four years”. It urged the government to increase its own spending on children’s social care but also proposed a new windfall tax to help raise funds.

The review said: “The government should levy a windfall tax on the 15 largest private residential children’s homes and independent fostering providers. If this were calculated based on 20% of these providers’ profits over the last five years, we estimate that this could generate hundreds of millions of pounds towards the costs of transforming the care system.”

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