England’s care system is failing children. This new overhaul is based on a middle-class fantasy

大号ike a protective sibling, I am the first to both criticise and defend the care system. It failed and saved me in equal measure. In adult life, I returned to it as a social worker. I know its flaws and its potential to change lives. The sector is stretched and underfunded. People working in the care system welcomed the promise of a review, but our hopes were short-lived.

The landmark review of children’s social care in England, released today, has been dubbed a “once in a generation opportunity” to transform the system. To anyone who has lived through, or worked within it, that may have sounded more like a threat than a promise. Any harmful recommendations could linger for decades – a terrifying prospect. Children in care are among the most vulnerable in society: they are twice as likely to die prematurely and only 6% 将要 end up in university.

There are some positives here: the review seeks to increase life expectancy among children in care, double university entry, and make care experience a protected characteristic. But many have long questioned the independence of the review. Its chair, Josh MacAlister, a secondary school teacher-turned-CEO of Frontline (a fast-track programme for social work) received £45m from the Department for Education to train just 900 social workers in 2019. Frontline retention rates do not justify this eye-watering cost.

显着, the government has been unwilling to invest a penny in the review’s recommendations, according to a leaked contract. Additional money, such as the £2.6bn requested by MacAlister (which doesn’t even begin to plug the £4bn budget black hole) will be taken from other public services. Perhaps that’s why the review focuses on scaling back so much. First to go is the independent reviewing officer role, designed to give children a voice and scrutinise care plans.

One group, 尽管, is exempt from the pinch. Private providers that charge local authorities up to £10,000 a week to care for one child won’t face profit caps, despite calls from people who work in the sector for limits on how much they can charge.

Other cuts are better disguised. The review insists communities (an undefined, homogenous group) can provide “organic, responsive help that services simply can’t”. It elaborates: a classmate’s parent, or a friend or family member, can step in to “look after a child after school to give the parents some space”. 这 is neither fair nor sustainable.

To state the obvious, communities are not always safe spaces. The Homes for Ukraine campaign is a prime example of this. While most hosts were genuine, this did not stop a minority attempting to exploit vulnerable people leaving a war-torn country. Children in care are easy targets of county lines exploitation. Will gangs be exempt from volunteering?

Law-abiding citizens who have protested against children’s homes being built on their streets pose an equal threat. What will persuade them to suddenly tolerate, let alone mentor, the very children they want rid of? Not everybody lives in quaint cul-de-sacs where retired therapists can offer parenting advice over supper. This middle-class fantasy won’t work for people living in unsafe housing, or suffering intra-community abuse.

We’re living in a time of unprecedented inflation, with one in five people in the UK living in poverty. People are struggling to support themselves, let alone others. This is especially the case among underpaid and overworked teachers, 谁, among other “trusted adults”, are framed in this review as the panacea to the foster carer shortage. The review states that “if only 1% of teachers stepped forward to foster a specific child, there would be 4,610 new homes available”.

The ethical implications of this are huge. Professional boundaries between teachers and pupils exist to keep children safe. It is unfair to expect teachers to provide a child’s intimate care, social-emotional support and potentially be marking their homework while balancing the needs of 29 other children in their class. In gaining a foster carer, we should not be expecting children, in essence, to forfeit a “normal” educational experience.

The review states that we need more foster carers. This is doubtless true, but they also need time, training and experience in order to provide care. I was informally fostered by a “trusted adult” – a young community professional who, in earnest, thought they could help. I waited patiently for the spare room to be set up, but as autumn turned to winter, I was still sleeping on a sofa bed in the freezing cold living room. I now realise this was a sign they were wildly out of their depth, perhaps unsure they could commit to caring for a traumatised 16-year-old. One day after school, I found a note on the kitchen table. It said I had four days to find somewhere else to live – a particularly cruel deadline, given it was 20 十二月.

I never really got over this. This rejection, at such a pivotal point in life, damaged my ability to form trusting relationships for years. I ended up in an unregulated hostel among adults known to police (22 children died in such settings 之间 2018 和 2020, but the review failed to condemn the use of unregulated hostels in the past).

In times of crisis, children need the best expertise available. Relying on a loose idea of “community” to supplement social care is a gross abdication of government responsibility. Communities can be a wonderful thing: while at the hostel, a family I had known my whole life provided invaluable care. They taught me slowly how to trust people again. But assuming parents and social workers haven’t already exhausted these avenues is naive. Practices such as family group conferencing, which is drawn from Māori culture and involves family and friends developing their own plans, have long been used in children’s social care.

Meaningful change must be achieved by properly funding services and protecting children’s hard-won rights. Passing the buck to the public is a cop out. Even a child could see that.