Social services place too much emphasis on investigating families struggling to care for their children rather than giving them support to help them through their difficulties, a review has found.
England’s current system has been described as a “30-year-old tower of Jenga held together with Sellotape: simultaneously rigid and yet shaky”.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care said: “Too often children are moved far from where they have grown up, are separated from their brothers or sisters, are forced to move schools, and have a revolving door of social workers.
“We are failing to build lifelong loving relationships around these children.”
Josh MacAlister, a former teacher who led the review, said: “There are many professionals and services doing excellent work but this report sets out the scale of the problems we face and the urgent need for a new approach.”
The review found that the focus on investigations rather than support is creating an adversarial atmosphere in the care sector – pitting families against the authorities.
It found that just under 135,000 investigations where a child was suspected of suffering significant harm did not result in them being placed on a child protection plan.
According to Joe Lane from the Action for Children charity, there needs to be more funding for children’s social services as well as a diversion in existing funds.
He said there has been a “massive shift with spending” over the past 10 years, with more money going into late intervention and less money into early intervention.
Rachel Musekiwa, a 20-year-old who was formerly in care, knows first-hand the impact of late intervention and the importance of keeping families together.
She went into care when she was seven years old and initially shared a foster home with her younger siblings. When she was 11, she was separated from them and contact was limited.
Rachel said: “I barely know my siblings like what their favourite colours are and just the basic stuff that people take for granted of being with siblings. I didn’t get to do and it kind of dawned on me, I’ve not really had that birthdays with them and it gets me angry.”
She said being separated from her siblings made her feel unmoored an isolated, adding: “I felt like everyone ditched me. I felt like everyone’s gone off on their own – my parents were together, and then my siblings were together, and I kind of felt alone, and I have to deal with this by myself.”
The first stage of the review sets out the issues which need to be tackled and the next stage will outline how to solve them.
On Wednesday, the government announced an extra £16m for children who have social carers. The money will go towards making sure children have extra support at school.
Children and families minister Vicky Ford said: “Every child or young person should be given opportunities to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. For children in care, or those who are known to social care teams, it is absolutely vital we help them to overcome the barriers they can face in education so that they have the best chance to succeed in life.”