Article 39’s current approach to the children’s social care review

Along with many others, Article 39 pressed for an independent care review. We welcomed the Conservative Party’s 2019 general election manifesto commitment to review the care system.

Last year, Article 39 staff and Trustees agreed that work on the review would be a strategic priority for us. We will therefore submit evidence to the review, but we have decided we cannot, at the present time, positively promote the process, or offer to convene and facilitate dialogue with children and young people or others in our networks. This is because we presently have too many concerns about the process and the government’s commitment to make and resource the necessary changes, which children and families say they need. Our concerns include:

  1. The scope of the review is incredibly wide, taking in England’s children’s social care system, children’s experiences of the youth justice system and the effect on children of the family court and legal process. It is described as a once-in-a-generation review which will elicit the views and experiences of thousands of people. Yet, the Chair states his case for change will be published in May/June – just 2/3 months after he started the work. The whole process is expected to last 12-13 months. No explanation has been given for the speed at which this review is being undertaken.
  2. The government’s insistence that the review must be cost neutral – that is, any recommendation requiring public funds must be matched with a proposal to make cuts in public services elsewhere – is setting it up to fail children and their families. 
  3. The online launch on 15 January 2021 was unnecessarily exclusive when it could have been a positive, inclusive and celebratory event.
  4. We do not believe the current Chair of the review is sufficiently experienced in the areas under investigation, or that he has demonstrable independence from government.
  5. There remains a lack of transparency over who else besides the review’s Chair and civil servants are conducting the review. The contract signed by the Chair indicates the review is to have a supporting panel, though 6+ weeks since the start of the review there are no details on the official website. 
  6. While members of the Experts by Experience Board bring a considerable body of knowledge, skill and experience to the review, it appears from materials published by the review to date that their role is confined to advising on how to ensure those with direct, personal experience can contribute to the process. It is not clear whether Board members will have any influence or part in analysing evidence or drafting the review’s findings and recommendations, or that they are being paid for their work.
  7. We deplore the way in which 950+ individuals who applied to join the Experts by Experience Board were rejected.
  8. 14 online consultation events are currently advertised on the review’s website. Only two of these are aimed specifically at children (though 16 and 17 year-olds with care experience are invited to two separate events with young adults up to the age of 25). The children’s sessions (held at 1pm and 4.30pm during the week) will bring together those who are care experienced as well as those living with their families with experience of child protection processes and arrangements. This is a lot of (potentially very sensitive) ground to cover in an online event with 30 children aged 15 and younger, who quite likely don’t know each other. Moreover, the event descriptions and joining forms are the same for children and adults.
  9. A call for evidence aimed primarily at researchers operated throughout March only, a short time-frame in itself but of more concern is the absence of any further call for evidence from other sources. (A separate call for advice was launched by the Chair on 15 January, which asks for suggestions around what he should read, whom he should meet and the process for listening to children, young people and adults with direct experience).
  10. We recognise there are other reviews and processes taking place, which could produce valuable evidence for this review. However, we believe children and young people would be much better served by having a single, well-resourced review with a national programme of work which is clear and open to everyone.