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CVAA statement on the Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy

We are disappointed by the Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy published on 2nd February which fails to consider the most vulnerable children in our society: children like Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson for whom home will always be too dangerous, and those children with highly complex needs.

To be clear, we wholly welcome every penny of the funding announced towards supporting families at home, supporting kinship carers and strengthening the children’s social care workforce. But there will always be children who cannot live at home, regardless of how much support their families receive. Many of these children don’t have suitable kinship carers who can step in to look after them instead. These children need new permanent loving homes, and countless research studies have shown that adoption has the best outcomes for the small cohort of children who need an alternative lifelong home. Yet the implementation strategy is silent about these children who need the state’s help the most. There is no protection of adoption as an option for these children, risking more children entering the care system instead.

We are also astounded that the government has not committed any funding towards supporting the lifelong relationships of care-experienced children, despite this being at the very core of the care review, which called for a reshaping of the system to “put relationships front and centre.” Instead, the Implementation Strategy relegates discussion of children’s relationships to its appendix. It concludes that nothing more is needed beyond what is already in train, and specifically the on-going pilot which digitalises letterbox contact for adopted children (Letterswap). What about support for children to see their families and other significant people face to face? What about support for birth families? What about investment in the professionals making decisions about contact, so they have the capacity and expertise to make informed individualised decisions for each child, which can be reviewed and adapted as children grow up and circumstances change? These considerations are relevant for children in all forms of care. Not prioritising relationships amounts to not prioritising what children repeatedly tell us matters most to them.

Lastly we remain extremely concerned about the plan for Regional Care Cooperatives to manage all public sector care placements and commission all not-for-profit and private sector care within that region. The government has accepted this recommendation even though regionalisation in adoption has failed to meet its goals, and despite warnings from numerous stakeholders including the Review’s own Evidence Group. Our care review response, available here, provides more detail on this. The list of promises on pages 104-105 of the government’s strategy are unevidenced and we continue to ask for deeper consultation on this aspect of the strategy.

We will be keeping a close eye on the progression of the data strategy which the government has committed to publishing by the end of 2023. It has been a continued mission at CVAA to push for better evidence on children’s outcomes across different care arrangements, to ensure that all professionals making decisions about children’s futures are doing so on the basis of the best available research. Likewise we will be calling for the Early Career Framework to look at how social workers develop their knowledge around adoption and permanence, as there is currently a skills and experience gap on the front line.