Children’s Social Care Review

Along with many others, Article 39 has long supported the calls of care experienced people for an independent review of the care system, similar to the comprehensive review undertaken in Scotland between 2017 and 2020.

We were delighted that the Conservative Party 2019 general election manifesto (opposite) committed to “review the care system” (page 14). After the general election, our Director added her name to a letter co-ordinated by John Radoux in December 2019 which was signed by 642 people, and our charity later supported the joint statement drafted by Become, and the accompanying letter sent to the Education Secretary in February 2020.

Throughout 2020, there were continued calls for the review to be established. A number of articles were written, including by Article 39’s Director (January 2020), John Radoux (September 2020) and Ed Nixon and Jonathan Stanley (November 2020).

On 4 November 2020, the Children’s Minister told the National Children’s and Adult Services Conference that the care review would be launched “very imminently”.

On 15 January 2021, the Department for Education announced the Chair and terms of reference of England’s Children’s Social Care Review. The Review was launched by the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, at an invitation-only online event that same day.

Review’s first report – 17 June 2021

On 17 June 2021, just three months after its launch, the children’s social care review published its first report, ‘The Case for Change’ together with a summary for children and young people.

Indicating fundamental change to how children’s social care is organised, provided and regulated, the report urges far greater support for families (through what it calls Family Help), increased use of kinship care, fewer children in care and possibly long-term commitment to adults who were raised in the care system – while also backing government plans for unregulated accommodation for 16 and 17 year-olds, suggesting remanded children should no longer have care status and questioning whether there is a place for children’s residential care.

Article 39 had hoped the review would distance itself from government plans on unregulated accommodation for children in care, so it is deeply disappointing that it has not championed care for 16 and 17 year-olds in care. Echoing the position of government ministers, the report states it is a “national scandal” that children aged 13 and younger have been put into unregulated accommodation by local authorities. No such outrage is expressed for older children, despite other sections of the report explaining the serious harms faced by this group, enduring educational inequalities and the sometimes life-long struggles of those who have been in care.

The review supports the government’s plan to regulate semi-independent accommodation for 16 and 17 year-olds through a new set of national standards. It fails to make the case for these children receiving care and consistent adult supervision within their homes – even when they are still at school or college. Had government decided to make providers follow existing quality standards for children’s homes (perhaps with modifications when the setting is wholly or mainly for older children), then care would be a central requirement. Advocates for care for older children are not calling for high quality semi-independent accommodation to be banned; we want these settings to provide day-to-day care to children, which the government’s draft standards deliberately omit. The review seems not to understand this, or has avoided challenging the government.

Similarly, the report highlights the inequity of children in foster care being able to ‘stay put’ until the age of 21 but this legal entitlement not being available to children living in residential care. It fails to back such a right for these children, instead supporting a weaker ‘staying close’ arrangement and states children shouldn’t be pushed into semi-independent accommodation before the age of 18 “if this is not right for them”.

The review questions whether children’s residential care should exist in the longer-term. There is an emerging theme within the report (and government policy) of public care perhaps being radically and explicitly reshaped around the needs of only younger children and family-based care. At times, there is a remarkable lack of insight into what children who enter care as teenagers bring with them as past experiences (there is a suggestion that teenagers enter care because they “have argued with their family”) or why looked after status was granted to remanded children in 2012. The review’s support for closing down child prisons is welcome but teenagers in desperate need must be able to rely on our child welfare system. We are a very long way off from children having their needs and rights met in early childhood and, as the report itself shows, it is teenagers who make up the greatest increase in children entering care and who are the subject of child protection referrals.

Kinship care is strongly promoted, with ample evidence that this can offer children the love, security and affirmation they need and have the right to enjoy throughout their childhood. However, the review lacks bold suggestions about the financial and other sustained support which should be provided as of right to families looking after each other when they can. It highlights financial savings in placement costs which kinship care can bring, even with payment of special guardianship allowances, but it is questionable that this would attend to the financial pressures and lack of specialist services for children who have endured great trauma which the report refers to elsewhere.

Article 39 and other organisations had urged the review to adopt a children’s rights framework, using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – which the UK ratified in 1991 – as the template for reviewing and reimagining children’s social care. There are a few references to children’s rights and the treaty’s Article 12 – which gives every child the right to be heard and to have their views given due weight – is highlighted (though the Convention is wrongly footnoted to Unicef, rather than the United Nations).

The review states it has “heard mixed things about the quality of advocacy, but it has been clear that children and care experienced adults think it is essential that someone consults them and ensures their views are heard”. There are several boxes throughout the report which summarise and speak to different constituencies of people the review has heard from – e.g. parents and families, foster carers and care experienced adults. None of these summarise what children have told the review (though its summary for children and young people does include direct quotes).

Possibly the strongest sections of the report relate to children’s feelings and experiences when separated from those they love (including their brothers and sisters) and the abandonment so many feel once they have been pushed out of care, together with a discussion of children’s social care taking on a more proactive role in fighting child welfare inequalities. However, no mention is made of the former ‘Every Child Matters’ national strategy or programme, or of how Scotland and Wales (and many other countries internationally) have put the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child at the heart of their policy-making and determination to transform children’s lives. While poverty and homelessness are discussed, the term ‘austerity’ never appears and there is no discussion of the punishing effects of policies such as the bedroom tax and the two-child social security cap. There is good discussion of the impact of ‘no recourse to public funds’, but this seems focused on the cost to local authorities rather than any explicit advocacy for social security to be provided equitably and without discrimination. Racial disparities across care, education and custody are examined.

The report critiques reliance on ‘rules’ and legislation – ‘top-down’ change – and states there is a limit to ‘bottom-up’ change like local initiatives funded by central government’s Innovation Programme. More radical change is required, it argues. It falls short of explicitly setting out its thinking in key areas – such as how to deal with what it calls “too many professional observers” (which may or may not include independent reviewing officers) and local authorities having to develop bespoke arrangements for children in care when their needs cannot be met in either children’s homes or health-based provision (bizarrely, an “absolutist approach to defending all legal protections” is suggested as being part of the problem here, rather than a failure to strategically plan and fund high-quality provision for children in desperate need). The content on social worker supervision, social workers leaving direct work with children and young people and new models of social work chimes with Frontline’s Blueprint published in 2019 (authored by the review’s Chair). Similarly, the narrative around funding for children’s social care – with the problem framed as essentially being about how funds are spent rather than central government investment in children and their families, within and beyond children’s social care – will cause little discomfort to government.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“It’s hard to be optimistic about this review because it has not yet shown itself able to stand up to government. The report displays real sensitivity and compassion for children and their families in many respects, but the review’s failure to challenge the government’s decision to only guarantee care to looked after children aged 15 and younger is hopelessly weak and contradictory. This is perhaps not surprising since the review is effectively part of the same government department which is creating a two-tier care system, and resisting our legal challenge.

Reading between the lines, it does seem that the review is following a number of well-trodden government paths but is stopping short, at this stage, of explicitly setting out its plans – such as support for deregulation, more children’s social care services moving out of local authorities and reducing protections for vulnerable teenagers. It’s going to take a lot of trust and goodwill in the coming months to engage with this process without feeling a lingering sense of political manipulation, whether that is intended or not.”

While the Experts by Experience Board and the Design and Evidence Groups which have been set up to assist the review are mentioned in the report, no names of individuals are given apart from the Chair’s, Josh MacAlister.

The Case for Change can be found on the review’s website here.
The children and young people’s summary can be found here.
Members of the Expert by Experience Board can be found on the review’s website here (and other pages give the names of those on the Design and Evidence Groups).

Find out more about our legal challenge to secure care for 16 and 17 year-olds in care here.

Children’s rights and the care review – joint submission & meeting (May & July 2021)

On 21 May, a coalition of coalitions concerned with children’s rights made a joint submission to the review. There followed a meeting between the coalition and members of the care review team on 1 July, the notes of which you can read below the joint submission.

JOINT SUBMISSION (21 May 2021)
As a coalition of coalitions working with and for children and young people in England, we ask that the children’s social care review publicly commits to upholding the principles and provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) through its working methods, analytical framework and proposals for change.

The UNCRC entitles all children to a comprehensive set of economic, social and cultural and civil and political rights, without discrimination. It guarantees a wide range of support and social protection to parents. Children separated from their families are granted special protection and assistance – vital safeguards to ensure they can recover from harm and thrive. Those who have been abused or suffered other rights violations are entitled to recover in environments which nurture their health, self-respect and dignity. The treaty’s preamble affirms the importance of every child being able to grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. 

The UK ratified the Convention in December 1991, shortly after the Children Act 1989 came into force – an Act of Parliament which upholds many aspects of the international treaty. Article 4 of the Convention requires governments to take all possible action to implement the treaty in law, policy and practice; this includes using the maximum available resources to uphold children’s economic, social and cultural rights.

Our organisations are unequivocally committed to the full implementation of the UNCRC in England and urge this review to build on positive children’s rights developments, both national and international. This would mean:

  • Children’s rights standards (as expressed in domestic and international law) form the framework of the review. 
  • The review promotes and strengthens children’s rights; a Child Rights Impact Assessment of its own proposals and recommendations would provide an assurance mechanism for this.
  • The review refrains from making any recommendations which dilute or delete existing legal protections which children, young people (including care leavers) and families rely upon.
  • Children’s meaningful and effective participation is at heart of the review, informed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s comprehensive guidance on implementing Article 12 of the Convention, the child’s right to be heard and taken seriously. This applies to both the review’s working methods and to the recommendations it makes for strengthening children’s rights: all children have the right to express their views freely, to have these given due weight and to be heard and represented in all administrative and judicial proceedings when decisions are being made about them.
  • Children and families benefit from increased legal entitlements and social protection, because of this review; and
  • The review champions government systems and structures which work for children and their families, and all those who care for, protect and support children and young people.  

Separately, we call on the government to accelerate the process of full incorporation of the UNCRC into UK law, consistent with recommendations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers
Alliance for Youth Justice
– Association of Lawyers for Children
– British Association of Social Workers (BASW) National Standing Committee
– Care Review Watch Alliance
– Every Child Leaving Care Matters
– Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium
– Together for Children (co-ordinated by Article 39)

CARE REVIEW MEETING WITH COALITION OF COALITIONS – 1 July 2021
Notes of meeting


Attendees:

Coalition of coalitions

  • Ali Gunn, Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers
  • Ben Twomey, Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers
  • Carole Littlechild, Nagalro
  • Carolyne Willow, Together for Children
  • Ed Nixon, Every Child Leaving Care Matters (ECLCM)
  • Gavin Moorghen, British Association of Social Workers (BASW)
  • Lisa Payne, Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium (RMCC)
  • Maya Pritchard, Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium (RMCC)
  • Natalie Williams, Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE), part of Just for Kids Law
  • Pippa Goodfellow, Alliance for Youth Justice (AYJ)
  • Sam Turner, Become [co-ordinated letter to Secretary of State from organisations pre-review]
  • Sarah Johnson, Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC)
  • Siobhan Kelly, Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC)

Care review

  • Dan Foster, engagement and participation team
  • Joanna Petty, engagement and participation team
  • Josh MacAlister, Chair of care review
  • Niketa Sanderson Gillard, policy team (leading on children in care and care experienced adults)
  • Shazia Hussain, head of care review team

Opening statements

  • Welcome and introductions
  • Short presentation by Carolyne Willow on the children’s rights context. UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in December 1991 with several reservations including child refugees, children’s incarceration with adults and child employment. Last reservation removed 2008. Through ratification, UK took on obligations under international law to implement UNCRC. Ministerial Code requires government ministers to comply with international law. In 2010, first Ministerial commitment to give due consideration to UNCRC when making law and policy; made as part of legislative changes to Children’s Commissioner role. This commitment repeated by government in 2018 (Parliamentary statement by then Children’s Minister). Statutory guidance on role of Directors of Children’s Services and Lead Members requires Directors of Children’s Services to have regard to the UNCRC general principles (Articles 2, 3, 6 and 12). Summing up what UNCRC gives to children and their families: dignity and respect; children are people in their own right; unequivocal focus on what’s best for the individual child & children generally; and certainty and accountability in their dealings with public bodies. Summing up what UNCRC gives to those working with, for and on behalf of children and families: universal, shared focus; helps us to do the right thing (moral and legal obligations); keeps us ambitious and shows we mean what we say. Final two points: we haven’t yet had a UK Government with a serious, sustained agenda to implement the UNCRC. Article 41 – we can go further! Treaty is a living instrument: interpretation and expectations develop and expand over time.
  • Care Review Chair responded to express his strong support for children’s rights and the UNCRC, which he used to teach in school as a citizenship teacher. Acknowledged work and impact of children’s rights advocates. Complete support for the principles identified by Carolyne; this is a worthy debate. Responded to the comment from Carolyne about messages from the review (‘social workers wading in’- although not a quote from the review) not speaking directly to children. Disagreed saying it is in line with a children’s rights based approach as having system that is overly adversarial with parents and families is not in the interests of children. Further to the rise in s.47 enquiries is the example of parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities consistently telling the review of having to battle for support over safeguarding.  How a rights-based perspective applies to a range of policies and debates can be contested.

Child Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA)

  • CRIA is a mechanism through which the care review (and the government) can analyse the likely and possible effects of its recommendations, policies and laws. 
  • CRIA is one way the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends for facilitating the implementation of the UNCRC. It is a structured, systematic process supported by a set of tools. The DfE has a CRIA template for England but it has seen limited use so far.
  • It would be interesting for the care review to apply a CRIA to its Case for Change.
  • Care review team asked if they were to do a CRIA, then how is best to do it – response suggests using England template, with support from experts such as CRAE.
  • CRIAs are not effective as a ‘bolt-on’ at the end of a process, they cannot be done at the last moment.
  • Only reason not to do a CRIA would be if not wanting to know the outcome. Practical suggestion to the care review to consider a secondment for someone with CRIA expertise to support the review on this.
  • Need to remember that UNCRC is concerned with much more than safeguarding. Also that family life is at the centre of this treaty and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – relationships and human connections vital for children and adults; it’s wrong to see children as standing alone – this is not what children’s rights is about. 

Unregulated accommodation

  • Disappointed to see government proposals for unregulated accommodation supported in the care review Case for Change. Several coalition members make the point that DfE plans are unacceptable. 16/17 year olds will be denied protections that have been borne out of tragic and avoidable suffering in children’s lives. Checks and balances are needed and cannot be characterised as bureaucracy.
  • Care review acknowledges that the response from government to unregulated accommodation has been slow and confused, while the growth in the number of children living in unregulated accommodation has not been led by what is best for young people. Getting properly regulated high quality homes must be the priority. There may be misunderstanding about what the government is proposing. Agrees there needs to be regulation and quality standards, and current DfE consultation is asking what these should look like. The current table defining the difference between ‘support’ and ‘care’ in the consultation document could be redefined to provide a much less restrictive definition of support. Primary legislation would have been needed to achieve the change campaigners have been pressing for and the option of new regulations and inspection currently being consulted on could be implemented sooner.
  • Shocking that some of these unregulated ‘homes’ are caravans and narrow boats, making children lost and unseen. Can the care review start from the principle that all children in care should be cared for. Secondary legislation could be used; before the Police etc Bill currently in Parliament, secondary legislation was used to define secure schools as children’s homes so that they will have to follow the children’s homes regulations. 
  • Care review noted that secure schools are a poor example as they have been so slow to happen, and suggests that the coalition of coalitions needs to think about where they would most like to influence government. Progress hasn’t been good enough on secure schools, which is why the Case for Change is highlighting it. 
  • Government’s commitment in 2016 to close child prisons took sustained advocacy from children’s rights advocates over many decades. Now facing similar struggle with unregulated – it shouldn’t be seen as radical in 2021 for all children in care to receive care. This fits with care review’s core aim. 
  • Children’s rights approaches require a communication and feedback loop – to use the example of the DfE unregulated accommodation consultation in 2020, many young people engaged with the process but their views were entirely omitted from the DfE’s summary of responses. There was also no young person-friendly explanation of the outcome of the consultation produced, despite this being requested by NYAS. Through its recommendations, the review could seek to improve how central government engages with children and young people across all government departments.

Other points raised by coalition members

  • Child refugees and migrants– concerns raised about sustained government attack on rights of children and young people with immigration issues. Review should engage with current government plans, including forthcoming Bill. Although the Case for Change touched on ‘no recourse to public funds’ it needs to highlight current and proposed dilutions of children’s rights. Calls for much greater engagement with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children – care review team explained that this has been part of their participation efforts and will continue to be so.
  • ‘Staying put’– there needs to be a right in law for children in residential homes to ‘stay put’, which Ofsted has reported as a theme of what children are asking for. Children and young people don’t want to be pushed out of their homes at 18.
  • Social worker time – children have the right to social workers who have the timeto build relationships, listen to them and act on their concerns.
  • Youth justice – there are particular and persistent rights challenges for children who are in conflict with the law. Review urged to give consideration to children in the youth justice system, particularly those deprived of their liberty. There is crossover between children in care and children in conflict with the law; care experience often leads to children being criminalised. AYJ would be happy to facilitate discussions between the review team and its members.
  • Access to advocacy services – a key way in which children and young people can be made aware of their rights and empowered to claim them is through independent advocacy. Too often, young people leave care before even being made aware of their entitlement to advocacy support. The care review should look at the ‘active offer’ of advocacy in Wales, where every child entering care is connected with an advocate who offers their support and explains what they do. Later this year, a DfE consultation on revised national advocacy standards is anticipated, and the care review recommending an ‘active offer’ would be a hugely significant step towards strengthening children’s rights. Case for Change rightly positive about the importance of advocacy for parents; review team could look to Care Act 2014 as example of right to advocacy in adult safeguarding (dignity is also promoted in that legislation). 

Next steps

  • A public roundtable to be arranged to continue the discussion of a children’s rights approach to the review.
Serious concerns about the review

At a meeting of coalitions and networks on 18 January 2021, it was decided to send a joint letter expressing our concerns to the Education Secretary. This was sent on 5 February 2021 and signed by 27 organisations and over 100 individuals with more than 2,000 years’ collective experience of children and families social work. After many more asked to sign it, the letter was resent on 18 February 2021, this time signed by 35 organisations and over 250 individuals with substantial experience of children’s social care.

The letter – see below – raised concerns over the independence of the Chair, the review’s time period and its very wide scope. It asked the government to agree that any proposals for reform of the Children Act 1989, coming from this process, would be passed to the Law Commission. It further asked for an independent panel to be appointed following open recruitment.

On 4 March 2021, we received a response to our letter to the Secretary of State. The response came from the Children’s Minister, Vicky Ford. It did not provide an answer to any of our substantive points or requests. (Note: the Minister states that the government will respond shortly to its consultation on the use of unregulated accommodation for children in care. The outcome of this consultation was announced on 19 February 2021). Read the Minister’s response here.

JOINT LETTER to The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP
(as resent 18 February 2021) 

Dear Secretary of State

ONCE-IN-A-GENERATION CHILDREN’S SOCIAL CARE REVIEW

As organisations and individuals with substantial professional and/or personal experience in England’s children’s social care system, we write to express our deep concern about the recently announced children’s social care review.

First, the scope of the review is unrealistically wide for a relatively short time period, especially within the context of a global pandemic. 

The terms of reference state that this will be a review of: 

… the whole system of support, safeguarding, protection and care, and the child’s journey into and out of that system, including relevant aspects of preventative services provided as part of early help… [It] should include children who are in care in formal settings such as fostering arrangements or residential care and also those receiving support under informal, kinship care. The review may want to consider support for children as they prepare to leave care and those receiving ongoing support once they have left care, drawing on care leavers’ experiences. It may also want to consider the support provided for adoption. The review will give due regard to the SEND Review, which will consider the main questions relevant to children with special educational needs and disability. 

The media release announced: “A wholesale independent review of children’s social care [that] will set out to radically reform the system”. The chair of the review has indicated via social media that he expects to complete this major task in 12 to 15 months.

Other recent reviews of specific aspects of children’s social care (fostering and children’s residential care, for example) each took several months. They were undertaken without the inclusive and transparent participatory processes promised for this wholesale review (though the details of these are yet to be published). The cross-government review of support for children with special educational needs was launched in September 2019 and is not expected to report until later this year – delayed partly due to COVID-19. 

Please do not rush this vital review. Hastily produced plans would inevitably risk making the lives of children, care leavers and families much worse. The Conservative Party 2019 general election manifesto pledged a review of the care system, and we suggest that a refocusing of the current terms of reference could help to achieve this – so that the review centres on children’s experiences of needing help and protection before coming into (or re-entering) care, their time in care (including time spent in custody and mental health units), and the needs of care leavers of all ages. With this refocusing, the review could carefully set in place structures and processes which can, over a realistic time period, facilitate the development of sound and credible recommendations. 

It was under a Conservative government, with cross-party support and strong engagement and backing from organisations representing the rights and interests of children and families, that the children’s social care system was last reformed – through the introduction of the Children Act 1989. That legislation emerged from a robust and inclusive series of reviews and working groups, beginning with a recommendation for law reform from a Parliamentary inquiry which sat between 1983 and 1984 and took evidence directly from care experienced people. The legislation itself was drafted by the Law Commission, under the leadership of a lawyer / Commissioner who was later to serve as President of the Supreme Court (Lady Brenda Hale). Overall, it continues to be respected both domestically and internationally as gold standard legislation.

This brings us to the appointment of the lead (as we understand it, sole) reviewer. Josh MacAlister has no professional background in children’s social care. After a brief career as a schoolteacher, he founded and became chief executive of a charitable company called Frontline.

Leading a once-in-a-generation, wholesale review of children’s social care would be a challenge for any one person. Even with a very talented individual, this is probably an impossible task for someone with no prior direct knowledge of the children’s social care system. We understand that the review will not properly commence its work until March 2021. We ask that you establish a collegiate approach, and appoint a panel of experts which can bring to the review wide-ranging knowledge, skills and experience, including direct, personal experience of the care system – following an open recruitment process.

It is critical that the chair of the review panel is both independent and perceived to be independent. We question the independence of Mr MacAlister. His organisation has been wholly or mainly reliant on substantial funding from the Department for Education from its inception. This may affect his capacity to critique government policy (should the evidence lead this way) and to make recommendations potentially unpopular with ministers, including around financial support to local authorities and others. The Chair of Mr MacAlister’s charity, Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice, led 10 Downing Street’s policy unit under Prime Minister David Cameron, and is presently undertaking the government’s review of adult social care. This may further compromise his independence from government.

Ahead of the 2019 general election, Mr MacAlister was lead author of a ‘blueprint’ for children’s social care published by Frontline, the Centre for Public Impact UK (part of Boston Consulting Group) and Buurtzorg Britain & Ireland. This work shows that Mr MacAlister has already invested time and energy into thinking how children and families could be much better served. 

It would be wrong, however, for this once-in-a-generation review to start with a ready-made template for radically restructuring children’s social care services (including potentially moving them out of local authorities and removing legal safeguards), not least because that particular blueprint was not developed with those who receive (or have received) children’s social care services. 

Further, we are concerned that the blueprint recently designed by Mr MacAlister and others is predicated on no extra funds being made available for children’s social care. The review’s current terms of reference similarly make no suggestion of additional funding for services to children and families and refer only to the effective use of resources and value for money – both of which are essential but only when sufficient funding has been provided in the first place. The Children’s Commissioner for England has estimated that councils need at least £1 billion more each year for children’s social care services. We ask that the government makes it clear to the review team that it is not bound by current resources available to local authorities, and that it has the freedom to explore and make recommendations around funding in accordance with the evidence it receives.

A panel of experts with an independent chair would allay fears, whether well-founded or not, that the government already knows how it wants to proceed after the completion of this review. 

In December 2017, the Law Commission reported that it had offered to undertake a review of Part 3 of the Children Act 1989, but this was turned down by Department for Education officials due to there being no legislative time to act on any reform proposals. We therefore ask that the government further commits to referring any proposals relating to the Children Act 1989 arising from this review to the Law Commission, the statutory independent body for law reform. 

Finally, we want to make it clear that we share the government’s concern that too many children, care leavers and families are not receiving the care, protection and support which they desperately need and are legally entitled to. This is unacceptable. We strongly caution against this review delaying government action on a whole host of policy areas which have required urgent action for many years, such as tackling the increasing use of unregulated accommodation for children in care, the upsurge in children placed outside their home areas and the paucity of places in English secure children’s homes for highly vulnerable children.

We are very committed to supporting a review and to contributing our views, experiences and ideas for change. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the United Kingdom ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. What better way to celebrate children’s rights than for us all to work together to produce a vision of a world-class care system which makes real those treaty obligations.

Given the concerns surrounding the appointment of the lead reviewer, we are copying this letter to the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Best wishes,

Carolyne Willow, Founder Director Article 39

Nuala Mole, Senior Lawyer The Aire Centre

Elaine Pearson Scott, Association of Independent Visitors and Consultants to Child Care Services

Siobhan Kelly & Hannah Perry, Co-Chairs Association of Lawyers for Children

Tom Croft & Diana Skelton, National Coordination Team ATD Fourth World

Dr Pippa Murray, Director Bringing Us Together

BASW England’s Children and Families Group

David Graham, National Director The Care Leavers’ Association

Dr Mark Kerr, Chief Executive Centre for Outcomes of Care

Dr Simon Duffy, Director Centre for Welfare Reform

Cyrus Larizadeh QC, Chair Family Law Bar Association

Amanda Knowles MBE, Service Manager (Director) Future Horizons 

Allison Hulmes, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association

Parmi Dheensa, Executive Director, Include Me TOO

Sylvia Duncan, Chair Institute for the Recovery from Childhood Trauma

Will Calver, Founder Isabel’s Voice

Legal Action for Women (co-ordinates Support Not Separation)

Love Barrow families

Rachel Bannister, Chair Mental Health Time for Action

Sukhchandan Pal Kaur, Chair Nagalro (The Professional Association for Children’s Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers)

Tim Bateman, Chair National Association for Youth Justice

Jon Fayle & Paul Smart, Co-Chairs National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers

Mark Warr, Chief Executive Officer National House Project

Marion Burgess, Parent Carer Foundation

June Leat, Founder and Chair Parents of traumatised adopted teens organisation (The Potato Group)

Social Work Education Anti-Racist Network 

John McGowan, General Secretary, Social Workers Union

Social Workers Without Borders

SPACE (Stop and Prevent Adolescent Criminal Exploitation)

Dr Sylvia Schroer, Chair Special Guardians and Adopters Together

Jane Chevous, Survivors Voices

Mark Lee, Chief Executive Together Trust

Stephen Gray, Chief Executive Officer Young Lives Foundation

Jo Cobley, Chief Executive Young Roots

Valerie Clark, Director & Solicitor Youth Legal

  • Adele Jones OBE, Professor of Social Work and adoptive parent; 40+ years’ experience of working with vulnerable women and children
  • Aidan Worsley, Professor of Social Work
  • Akilah Moseley, social work lecturer with 20 years’ experience as a children and families social worker
  • Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green Kt, 40+ years’ experience working with and for children and young people, including as former first National Clinical Director for Children and Maternity Services and first Children’s Commissioner for England; author of ‘British Betrayal of Childhood’ 
  • Dr Alison McInnes, Director of Transnational Education, Department of Social Work, Education & Community Wellbeing, Northumbria University & Co-Chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC) International Committee
  • Alison Wrobel, adoptive parent
  • Alisoun Milne, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Kent
  • Alix Walton, registered social worker, senior lecturer and freelance consultant working with social workers post-qualification
  • Allan Norman, independent social worker (qualified 1990); non-practising solicitor (on roll from 2000), Celtic Knot
  • Alys Young, Professor of Social Work and registered social worker
  • Amanda Fitchett, Vice-Chair JUCSWEC, and social work academic for 23 years
  • Amy Kelly, 20+ years’ experience in children’s social care, including managing children’s homes and local authority child protection (qualified 2014)
  • Ana Olea Fernandez, 12 years’ experience as supervising social worker; currently PhD student researching the psychiatric diagnosis and treatment of children in care
  • Andrea Ellwood, parent of a disabled child and a disabled child; SEND campaigner
  • Andy Curtis, independent advocate for children and young people (children in care and child protection)
  • Professor Anita Franklin, 25 years’ experience in researching children’s social care
  • Ann Way, 45 years’ experience as a social worker for children and families
  • Professor Anna Gupta, Royal Holloway University of London, registered social worker and social work researcher and educator with 30+ years’ experience in the field of children and families, the family courts and universities
  • Anna Mayer, social worker in local authority child protection (qualified 2014)
  • Annabel Wells, adoptive parent and CAMHS nurse of 11+ years. Working in adolescent psychiatry inpatient units and community teams across the south west of England
  • Annalisa Toccara, founder of Our Mel and care experienced person
  • Anne Hollows, qualified social worker since 1974, academic teacher and researcher since 1996
  • Anne Knill, adoptive parent
  • Anne Rutherford, adoptive parent and previously worked with young people in care system and adults who had been in care system as children
  • Annemarie Parker, 20+ years’ experience of working as a social worker within children’s social care
  • Antony Corrigan, care experienced (almost 10 years)
  • Barbara Joss, 30 years as adopter and foster carer; retired health visitor
  • Barry Anderson, retired former social worker, youth justice worker and charity CEO
  • Professor Emeritus Barry Goldson, University of Liverpool
  • Barry Luckock, registered social worker and university lecturer 
  • Ben Ashcroft, author of ‘Fifty-One Moves’ & Founder/Vice Chair Every Child Leaving Care Matters
  • Brian Douieb, independent social worker with 30+ years’ experience
  • Dr Bridget Ng’andu, Senior Lecturer in Social Work and registered social worker (qualified in 1995)
  • Carol Levy, adoptive parent
  • Caroline Bald, lecturer and criminal justice social worker (qualified 1999)
  • Caroline Riley, parent of disabled child; youth worker with 14 years’ experience; supported and worked for children’s charities
  • Caroline Taylor-Beswick, registered social worker, previous manager children’s rights service and foster-sibling
  • Catherine Burton, 30+ years working with children young people & adults with disabilities and their families. Qualified social worker currently working as a regional manager for a disabled children’s charity
  • Dr Catriona Hugman, care experienced researcher
  • Christian Kerr, social worker, social work lecturer, chair of North East branch of British Association of Social Worker
  • Dr Christine Cocker, registered social worker, independent vice chair of a permanence panel and adopter, with over 30 years’ experience of social work practice, teaching and research
  • Dr Ciaran Murphy, senior lecturer in social work; registered social worker; PhD Discretionary space of statutory child protection social workers; 10 years practice experience as child protection social worker
  • Cindy Perkins, adoptive parent
  • Claire O’Brien, Founding Director Noor Homes Ltd, care leaver and social worker (qualified 2015)
  • Professor Claudia Bernard, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Danica Darley, 15 years’ experience working with children in care throughout the UK. Now a Doctoral candidate researching the exploitation of children in care
  • Danielle McLaughlin, care experienced person (substantial experience)
  • Danielle Turney, registered social worker and Professor of Social Work
  • Dave Bagshaw, adoptive parent and 8 years as adoption panel member
  • David Jackson, 16 years as a child in the social care system, published author on the subject and sector-related charity director
  • David Jockelson, childcare lawyer
  • David Steare, 45+ years’ experience as a psychiatric nurse and social worker in adolescent psychiatric unit, children’s secure accommodation centre, child care operations teams, and community based child & adolescent mental health teams; former foster parent; now works voluntarily with parents, carers of children with special educational needs and young adults diagnosed with ADHD and/or autism
  • David Mark Keeley, social worker with 23 years’ experience including in fostering and adoption and as an independent reviewing officer 
  • Dr David N Jones, former International Federation of Social Workers President, former Chair of Association of Independent Local Safeguarding Children Boards Chairs; BASW member
  • Deanna Edwards, registered social worker and lecturer in social work, University of Salford
  • Debbie Brooks, social care consultant with 44 years’ experience of working with looked after children
  • Debbie Key, worked in services for children and families for 29 years; social worker
  • Deborah Eyre, adoptive parent
  • Deborah Jamieson, adoptive parent
  • Denise Smalley, 28 years’ experience in social care, the last 17 as a registered social worker mostly working in fostering and adoption
  • Diane Galpin, Centre for Seldom Heard Voices, Bournemouth University
  • Donna Kelso, 30+ years’ experience as parent/carer and grandparent/carer; 20+ years as parents/carer representative on various local authority strategy groups and ‘partnership’ groups; representative of Voice for Change Parent Carer Group
  • Dr Donna Peach, lecturer in social work, University of Salford (30+ years’ experience in children and family social work)
  • Duncan Tree MBE, 30+ years’ experience in social care policy for children & adults (public & voluntary sectors)
  • Ed Nixon, senior manager in children’s social care; Chair Every Child Leaving Care Matters
  • Elaine Bruley, adoptive parent and independent social worker working with children with disabilities
  • Dr Eleanor Staples, Lecturer in Social Policy and Criminology, University of Bristol, research experience with children in care, children in need, adopted children and their families
  • Elena Sandrini, independent social worker /mediator and expert witness; 40+ years’ experience working with children and families
  • Elene Constantinou, former head of regulated services and children’s services consultant (35+ years’ experience working in local authorities)
  • Elizabeth McAteer, 25 years as a local authority social worker (safeguarding, adoption and family court) followed by 10 years as an independent social worker, consultant, trainer and lecturer
  • Ella Dhillon, care experienced person
  • Elsie Price, 40+ years’ experience in children and families social work; last 20 years specialising in therapeutic support in adoption and foster care and working with kinship care
  • Dr Emma Stevens, social worker, researcher, academic
  • Erin Amiss, adoptive parent with 5 years’ experience as independent member of adoption panel
  • Ffion Evans, social Worker and lecturer (qualified 2000); 15+ years in children and families statutory social work practice 
  • Fiona Collins, secondary teacher with 26 years’ experience, specialising in inclusion. Adoptive parent and Independent Panel Member for fostering & adoption
  • Fran Fuller, registered social worker, recently retired Vice-Chair of BASW and before that Chair of BASW 2011-2016. Currently Head of Social & Community Studies at the University of Derby
  • Francis Boylan, British Association of Social Workers member, retired social worker (50+ years’ experience)
  • Frank Keating, Professor of Social Work and Mental Health, Royal Holloway University of London
  • Gemma Louise Hunt, practice educator, former children and families social worker; social work academic
  • Gillian Ruch, registered social worker and Professor of Social Work with over 30 years’ experience of social work research, education and practice
  • Dr Gillian Schofield OBE, Emeritus Professor of Child and Family Social Work, University of East Anglia (36 years’ experience of social work, social work education and social work research)
  • Greg Edwards, senior management professional working in the mental health charity sector supporting children and young people
  • Dr Hannah Wright, clinical psychologist working with looked after and adopted children and families on the edge of care
  • Heidi Dix, manager of youth justice service (qualified 1997) and senior lecturer in social work
  • Dr Helen Hingley-Jones, Associate Professor in Social Work
  • Helen Hutchinson, adoptive parent and volunteer with Adoption UK
  • Helen Oakwater, adoptive parent 
  • Helen Priest social worker with 30 years’ experience
  • Helen Taylor, senior social worker with 15 years’ experience in statutory social work, as well as volunteering for the youth offending service
  • Helen Thornton, retired paediatric clinical nurse specialist (30+ years in role) with extensive experience of multiagency working with early help, child protection and children with disabilities team; also parent of young man with complex needs with experience of social care services
  • Holly Greenberry, co-founder IntersexUK
  • Professor Hugh McLaughlin, 40+ years’ experience as registered social worker and various manager roles to Assistant Director (Children and Families) level before moving into academia
  • Ian Dickson, retired social worker/Ofsted inspector with 40+ years’ professional experience. Care experienced and campaigner for the rights of care experienced people. Chair of the Conference for Care Experienced People management team 2019 & member of the Our Care Our Say team
  • Ian Gould, Ambassador for Every Child Leaving Care Matters
  • Dr Ian Sinclair OBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Work; 40 years’ experience in probation, social work, counselling, social work education and social work research
  • Inés Martínez, social work lecturer
  • Inez Fernandez, adoptive parent
  • Isabelle Kirkham, care leaver in 3rd year of university
  • Isobel Jones, registered social worker
  • Jaci Quennell, 43 years social work experience in statutory and third sectors, national and international consultant and clinical supervisor on exploitation and trafficking
  • Jacki Rothwell, retired social worker (qualified 1979)
  • Jackie McCartney, Ofsted childminder, Rees Foundation Ambassador & lived residential care experience
  • Jackie Rafferty, retired academic working across social work and social policy education and with 25 years’ experience of youth work and community development
  • Jacyn Talbot, adoptive parent
  • Jan Horwath, Emeritus Professor of Child Welfare, 45+ years’ experience as a social worker, academic and child welfare consultant 
  • Jan Lovett, adoptive parent 
  • Jane Cross, adoptive parent
  • Jane Tunstill, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Royal Holloway, London University
  • Janet Barraclough, adoptive parent
  • Dr Janet Chamberlain, adoptive parent
  • Jeanette Cossar, registered social worker, Associate Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia; 20 years’ experience as a practitioner and academic
  • Jeffrey Coleman, social worker, former BAAF regional director, 45 years’ experience as qualified social worker in children’s and youth justice social work practice and training 
  • Jenni Randall, retired social worker (50 years’ experience)
  • Jennifer Tupper, parent of children with severe disabilities
  • Jenny Dagg, senior lecturer and social worker (qualified 2000)
  • Jessica Mitchell, social worker in child protection and previous residential child care worker
  • Jill Gilmore, parent
  • Jill Groves Stephenson, 5 years Step Up to Social Work Programme Manager; 20 years as qualified social worker, team manager, senior manager and Principal Social Worker in children and families safeguarding; 15 years’ experience in children’s residential settings
  • Dr Jo Dillon, lecturer in social work at Sheffield University, with 20+ years’ experience in children’s social care
  • Dr Jo Finch, former children and families social worker; social work academic
  • Dr Jo Staines, senior lecturer in childhood studies and youth justice, research with children in care, care-leavers, and those involved with the justice system
  • Jo Warner, registered social worker, lecturer and researcher on children’s social care
  • Jo Williams, social worker and senior lecturer with 30 years’ experience
  • Dr Joanna Rawles, Open University, 25+ years social worker, social work manager, social work academic/educator, head of social work programmes
  • Joanne Westwood, former residential care worker, youth worker, qualified social worker and advocate for children in need, now social work academic
  • Joe Hanley, social work lecturer, Open University
  • John Radoux, 14 years personal & 17 years professional experience of the care system
  • Jon Dudley, children and families social worker (qualified 1980); member of British Association of Social Workers
  • Jon Phillips, care experienced person (15 years)
  • Jonathan Dickens, Professor of Social Work at the University of East Anglia; 30+ years’ experience as a practitioner and academic
  • Dr Jonathan Parker, Professor of Society and Social Welfare, Bournemouth University
  • Judith Timms OBE, founder and trustee of the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS); former Chair British Association of Social Workers
  • Dr Julia Brophy, independent consultant in family justice issues, former Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Family law and Policy, University of Oxford, and has been a principal investigator on public law proceedings since the inception of the Children Act 1989 
  • Julia Rowlands, adoptive parent
  • Julie Mepham, 30 years’ experience in children’s social care to Assistant Director level; currently head of service for corporate parenting 
  • June Thoburn CBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Work
  • Kaddy Thomas, personal and professional experience of children’s social care
  • Karen Goodman, independent social worker (qualified 1979)
  • Dr Karen Lyons, 40+ years’ experience in practice, social work education (children and family work and policies) and research (latterly as Emeritus Professor, International Social Work, London Metropolitan University)
  • Karen Shaw, adoptive parent
  • Kate Leonard, practitioner, registered social worker and academic teaching post-qualified children and family social workers and managers
  • Kate Mercer, Director of Black Belt Advocacy, 20 years’ experience working within advocacy
  • Kate Parkinson, qualified social worker since 1998, undertaken various roles in children and families social work, became a social work academic in 2013
  • Kathy Bland, adoptive parent
  • Katie Clarke, parent carer of daughter with complex needs. 25 years’ experience of working with families with disabled children. Host parent to refugees and about to become foster parent to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
  • Dr Katrin Bain, social pedagogue, registered social worker, lecturer and researcher in social work in England
  • Kay Warbrick, experience includes social worker, independent reviewing officer, manager with local authority social services and policy officer in child protection charity
  • Kerrie Thacker, unpaid carer; 40+ years’ experience of care system as both mother and grandmother
  • Kerry Bull, care experienced and a qualified social worker with 13 years’ experience working with looked after children
  • Dr Kish Bhatti-Sinclair, Reader in Social Work and Social Policy
  • Kyla Chandler, care experienced student social worker with several years’ experience working within residential child care
  • Lesley Moore, adoptive parent
  • Dr Leslie Hicks, Associate Professor, 30 years research experience in children’s social care
  • Lewis Roberts, senior children and family social worker
  • Dr Lisa Morriss, Lecturer in Social Work and registered social worker (qualified 1995)
  • Dr Lisa Revell, social worker, lecturer and researcher in social work
  • Dr Liz Davies, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, London Metropolitan University
  • Lowis Charfe, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Work, Care and Community, University of Central Lancashire
  • Dr Lucille Allain, Associate Professor of Social Work; independent vice-chair, fostering /permanency panel; former child and family social worker and manager
  • Lucy Porteous, Teaching Fellow in Social Work. Registered social worker
  • Lyndsey Morgan, adoptive parent 
  • Dr Lynn Brady, freelance advocate for children and independent person for 1989 Children Act complaints (40 years’ experience of working with children and families)
  • Lys Eden, care-experienced student social worker
  • Dr Mair Richards, adoptive parent, consultant paediatrician 1989-2013, former medical adviser for adoption and fostering and former sessional trainer for BAAF (now CoramBAAF)
  • Martha Cover, barrister Coram Chambers with 33 years’ experience in care proceedings
  • Martha Hampson, researcher and service designer in children’s services, with 5 years in the delivery team for the DfE’s innovation programme in children’s social care
  • Mary Johnson, adoptive parent
  • Mary-anne Hodd, care experienced
  • Maurice Guyer, Secretary Middlesex Law Society and accredited Children Panel solicitor
  • Mel Wilson, adoptive parent
  • Melanie Bamford, IRO/Child Protection Chair
  • Michael Blowfield, adoptive parent
  • Michael McGrath-Brookes, 8+ years as a social worker and social work manager working in child protection and children in care; now social work lecturer and programme lead
  • Michael Murphy, social worker and senior practitioner in child care (12 years); project lead for Safeguarding Board (13 years) and senior social work lecturer (15 years)
  • Michelle Lefevre, Professor of Social Work at the University of Sussex; substantial background in child protection social work practice in children’s social care
  • Mick McCormick, registered social worker and senior lecturer in social work
  • Mike Stein, Emeritus Professor, University of York; has been researching the experiences of care leavers and contributing to leaving care policy developments for 40+ years
  • Mohamed Mohamed, care experienced and supported accommodation worker (looked after children and care leavers) 
  • Natalie Harfield, adoptive parent
  • Niamh Linnane, independent advocate
  • Nick Barwick, former looked after young person; now motivational speaker, mentor to children in care and social care trainer
  • Nicky Sole, parent with direct experience of the care system
  • Nigel Horner, 49 years’ experience in residential child care, social work (qualified 1980), social work training and education
  • Nigel Parton, Emeritus Professor of Applied Childhood Studies; 47 years’ experience in children’s social care and former foster carer
  • Nigel Richardson CBE, former Director of Children’s Services with over 30 years’ experience working in and advising on child welfare services nationally and internationally
  • Nigel Patrick Thomas, Professor Emeritus of Childhood and Youth, University of Central Lancashire; 20 years’ experience as a social worker
  • Nina Biehal, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of York; professional experience as a social worker and many years’ experience of research on children’s social care
  • Nora Duckett, Senior Lecturer and Social Work Course Lead, University of Suffolk 
  • Nushra Mansuri, Assistant Professor in Social Work
  • Paige Alexandra Worrall, care leaver and foster carer
  • Pam Hibbert OBE, retired practitioner, manager, policy and researcher in children’s social care and youth justice
  • Pamela Stanyon-Carr, Head of Service for Children in Care and Care Leavers; 22 years as a children’s social worker
  • Dr Pat Cartney, Co- Chair Joint University Council Learning and Teaching Committee, registered social worker
  • Pat Leeson, independent reviewing officer
  • Patrick Kidner, former social work practitioner, teacher and manager 1966-2010
  • Paulette Forbes, independent social worker, safeguarding, fostering and adoption (qualified 1993)
  • Penny Sturt, independent consultant, trainer and registered social worker (qualified 1989)
  • Pete Bentley, 40 years’ experience of children and families social work, including as British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering consultant and independent chair of LA adoption panels 
  • Philippa Williams, Adoption UK Wales
  • Rachel Burton, social worker since 2018
  • Rachel Lofthouse, adoptive parent
  • Rachel Webster, adoptive parent
  • Councillor Ralph Berry, social worker / children’s guardian until 2011 then lead member for children from 2010 to 2016; currently an adoption panel member 
  • Dr Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London (50 years’ experience as a social worker and social services director)
  • Raya Tibawi, retired children’s guardian, independent social worker, social work consultant and trainer, fostering panel chair
  • Dr Rebecca O’Shaughnessy, 10+ years’ experience of child and family social work practice and research (Ireland and England)
  • Professor Richard Barker, Emeritus Professor of Child Welfare, qualified social worker & teacher; nearly 50 years’ experience of children’s social care
  • Richard Lynch-Smith, social worker, poverty representative for Social Work Action Group
  • Richard Servian, retired social worker; former Chair, British Association of Social Workers UK Policy Ethics and Human Rights Committee
  • Richard Williams, 46 years’ experience in social work with children and families (32 in practice and 14 as an academic)
  • Richmal Wild, adoptive parent
  • Dr Robin Sen, social worker, lecturer and researcher in England and Scotland, member of British Association of Social Workers Children & Families England Policy Group
  • Rodney Noon, Editor, Seen and Heard
  • Ros Gowers, independent social worker, practice educator and practice tutor (44 years’ experience)
  • Ross Gibson, social worker since 2009
  • Roy Grimwood, retired social care consultant with 40+ years’ experience including as manager of secure children’s homes and educating excluded children
  • Ruth Diver MBE, adoptive parent
  • Dr Ruth Erskine, consultant clinical child psychologist and paediatric neuropsychologist
  • Ruth Scotten, registered social worker, adopter and practising therapeutic life story worker
  • Saira-Jayne Jones, care experienced adult, lived experience practitioner, qualified social worker, Co-Director at Your Life Your Story, Co-Founder and Director at Artifacts CEP CIC
  • Sally Gross, independent social worker, practice educator and trainer (30 years’ experience in children and families social work)
  • Sally Scott, registered social worker and practice educator (30 years’ experience in social care)
  • Sally Trench, background in child protection and safeguarding; now independent reviewer (serious case reviews) and auditor
  • Sally Wilcock, Children Panel solicitor since 1989
  • Sarah Dennis, independent social worker and PhD student. 13 years’ experience as a social worker and children’s guardian
  • Sarah Ewbank, family solicitor since 1986 and adoptive parent of a teenager
  • Sarah Phillimore, barrister specialising in care proceedings since 1999
  • Sarah Redmond, senior lecturer and social worker; 17 years in practice working across all social work disciplines, including as an Approved Mental Health Professional assessing children and young people under the Mental Health Act
  • Sarah Riding, lecturer in social work and social worker (qualified 1989)
  • Sarah Saunders, independent social worker
  • Sarah Wardell, independent social worker (qualified 1994) and practice educator
  • Sean Hayes, 25+ years’ experience in children and families social work (qualified 1996), including as an independent reviewing officer
  • Sheila Hanly, adoptive parent
  • Dr Simon Cauvain, Head of Department, Social Work, Care and Community, BASW, SWAN and JUCSWEC member, qualified in 2002
  • Simon Morton, registered social worker (qualified 1989) and father of looked after child
  • Sophie Ayers, social worker for 13 years in child protection 
  • Sophie Cooper, adoptive parent
  • Stephanie Gee, children’s local authority social worker for 22 years; currently an independent social worker and independent visitor
  • Dr Stephen Hicks, University of Manchester
  • Steve Broach, barrister and children’s rights advocate
  • Dr Steve Hothersall, qualified and registered social worker since 1989; social work academic since 2003
  • Steve Myers, Director of Social Sciences, 40 years social care practice and academic experience
  • Steven M Shardlow, Emeritus Professor of Social Work
  • Sue Barker, started social work career as children’s residential worker in 1965 (qualified 1972); worked as social worker & manager at most levels in most areas of children’s social care (also including early years & youth justice) before retiring in 2013
  • Talib Abdulhussein, adoptive parent
  • Tim Sugden, 44 years’ experience in children’s social care, 19 as an independent reviewing officer
  • Tiphanie Moore, 10+ years’ experience in social work with children and families, including with looked after children and child protection
  • Tonimarie Benaton, social worker and academic
  • Tracey Spensley, adoptive parent
  • Trish Leaning, adoptive parent with 25 years’ experience working with children including 15 years working with children/young people with severe learning disabilities in both educational & residential settings
  • Val Coombe, adoptive parent of 16 years; doctor of 23 years’ experience (previously health visitor and midwife) 
  • Valerie Wreford-Bush, adoptive parent, therapeutic foster carer (for 18 years) and former primary school teacher
  • Vikki Smith, independent advocate (children’s social care) for over a decade and independent visitor
  • Vikki Turner, adoptive parent
  • Zoe Martin, social worker with children and families for 30 years
Article 39’s current approach to the children’s social care review – April 2021 

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.

Parliamentary Questions

The absence of clear information about the review has led to questions being asked in Parliament. We summarise below some of the key information which has been elicited as a result.

Who was invited to the review’s online 15 January launch – answered 3 February 2021
“The event to launch the review was attended by over 50 people from over 25 organisations, as well as Josh MacAlister, the reviewer, and my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education. These organisations are: Action for Children, Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, Association of Directors of Children’s Service, Barnardo’s, Become, BBC, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Cardiff University, Care Leaver Covenant Board, Chair of Child Safeguarding Panel, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, Children’s Society, Coram, Council for Disabled Children, Daily Telegraph, Department for Education, Early Intervention Foundation, Family Justice Observatory, Family Rights Group, Financial Times, ITV, LEAP Academy, Local Government Association, National Children’s Bureau, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Ofsted, Social Work England, What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care, Sky News and Social Work England. A number of individuals who were invited to and attended the event have lived experience of children’s social care. Representatives from other organisations were invited but did not attend. These are: Youth Endowment Fund, Kent University, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Reach Academy”. Full answer here.

Why Josh MacAlister was invited to chair the review – answered 3 February 2021
“My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, asked Josh MacAlister to lead the independent review of children’s social care based on his understanding of the challenges facing the system and his experience of implementing innovative solutions. It is common practice for independent reviewers to be directly appointed based on their expertise.” Full answer here.

Funding to Frontline (organisation established and led by Josh MacAlister until he started full-time on the review) – answered 3 February 2021
“The charity, Frontline, received funding from the department to deliver the Frontline programme, which trains graduates to become social workers, and the Firstline programme, which supports the development of social worker managers. In the last 5 financial years, they received the below amounts (rounded):

  • £16 million in 2020/21 (year to December).
  • £20 million in 2019/20.
  • £15 million in 2018/19.
  • £13 million in 2017/18.
  • £8 million in 2016/17.”

Answer here.

Other related reviews

Since the children’s social care review online event on 15 January 2021, several other related reviews have been announced:

1) All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers Spotlight Inquiry – announced 22 January 2021
2) House of Lords Public Service Committee Vulnerable children and public services inquiry – announced 16 February 2021
3) Education Committee’s inquiry into children in care homes – announced 18 February 2021
4) Competition and Markets Authority study into the children’s social care provision – announced 12 March 2021
5) Children’s Commissioner for England Childhood Commission – announced 16 March 2021