A senior director is backing proposals for a nationwide child welfare reset after contributing to a hard-hitting report that calls for a radical overhaul of the system.
The Independent Child Welfare Review was released today (Monday 23 May.)
The national review, led by Josh MacAlister, examines how the system is responding to all children referred to it, from those receiving early support to children in full-time care. It examines foster care, residential placement, care by extended family members and the situation faced by dischargers.
The Ministry of Education said the review would be a unique opportunity to address the failings of the system.
Josh MacAlister’s report indicates that there have been many attempts to reform child welfare since the Children’s Act 1989. While each has resulted in incremental progress, the result has been a multitude of legislations, systems, structures and services.
The report goes on to say that the whole system now needs a stronger foundation, stating, “The time is now over for half measures, quick fixes or grandstanding.
“Changing the simplest parts, covering up the cracks or just making the right noises can actually make things worse.
“How we care for our children is nothing less than a reflection of our values as a country.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Stuart Carlton, Corporate Director of Children and Youth Services. He was part of the design team for the review which shed light on the issues currently facing the child welfare system and helped build and propose alternatives.
He said: ‘The review looked for examples where alternative approaches to child welfare issues were working, including in North Yorkshire.
“In many areas of children’s social services, the county is already taking an alternative approach, leading the way in helping families find solutions.”
North Yorkshire initiatives that are already taking a new approach to child welfare include:
- Family search. It is about expanding a family’s network around their child to ensure their safety as soon as a family becomes involved with child and family services. They are supported by qualified practitioners and services to identify family members and other important people in the child’s life who can come together to ensure that the child’s needs are met and that parents are supported. They then work with the family and the child or young person to help them explore their life, how they feel now and what they want it to be like in the future. It revolves around the fundamental principle that children need to know they are loved and feel loved and explores those in their family, friends or primary attachments who might love the child or young person and help create a network around them.
- Mocking bird. This initiative has now been running in North Yorkshire for three years and is based on the concept of peer support and the creation of an extended family for children and young people in the care system. It is an alternative method of foster care that can improve the safety, stability and permanency of children and young people in the care of local authorities and improve support for carers. The principles are to provide unconditional care, normalization, community care, active child protection, biological family seen as future support, cultural relevance and identity and support of foster families. Fostering North Yorkshire has just launched its second ‘constellation’, allowing up to 20 foster families and the children in their care to become part of this community.
- Lifetime connections. It is an approach that aims to help children and young people in care – and those living apart from their parents – to have a safe and lasting support network, helping them to have a greater level of control and ongoing support in their lives. Support is also offered for young adoptees who want to be inked with key people in their lives. It helps these children and young people identify the people they would like to have a relationship with, using tools to help the young person reflect on their life and who has been important, but also those they may not have known previously with whom he might want a relationship with. They will work with their Ongoing Connections Coordinator to see how they can get in touch with those identified and how presentations and meetings will take place. They will work together to ensure this is done safely and at the pace of the youngster. The service has been proven to strengthen a sense of identity and belonging, improve emotional well-being and strengthen relationships in care and when young people leave care.
- Family group conferences. A child and family-centred approach that brings together family members and other people important to the child to help them find their own solutions to the difficulties that worry the family and professionals. It is run by the family and together with the referent they will agree on what concerns them. A facilitator will then ensure that the child’s opinions and any other information are shared before leaving the family for family time. It is during family time that they will together create a plan of what they will do to help the family and address worries and concerns. They will also consider what they might need from others and professionals to help make the plan work. The initiative helps families plan and take control of their lives, clarifies everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and makes sure everyone knows if there are any non-negotiables or bottom lines that aren’t negotiable. could not be agreed.
- The Restorative Academy offers pioneering intervention when young people and families are in conflict within the family home, school or community and also supports young people in the care system. Restorative Academy workers have had the experience of being cared for or receiving intervention from a local authority themselves, which helps to break down barriers and build trust. The service is currently taking part in a Parliamentary report on how schools, foster families and social services for children can operate restoratively and their evidence will be presented to Parliament next month.
- Fostering North Yorkshire’s aim is to achieve the best outcomes, choice and stability for children/young people in care through high quality care which will provide a range of foster care arrangements from short breaks to permanence in which children can fulfill their potential. To ensure that North Yorkshire can provide the range and type of foster homes required, Fostering North Yorkshire has a comprehensive framework that takes into account the skills, knowledge and development of new and experienced foster families and which contains varying levels of placement from advanced and specialist homestays, to No Wrong Door residential hubs and specialist short stays.
- Always here. This initiative aims to address issues faced by care leavers, particularly the ‘edge of the cliff’ in care when they reach the age of 25 and councils no longer have to keep in touch. Under North Yorkshire’s Always Here scheme, people leaving care can stay in touch with their primary workers for as long as they want throughout their adult lives. It has been used effectively in North Yorkshire for over a year and has enabled people leaving custody to share life milestones such as marriages and the arrival of their own children, or to replicate the type of support that families would offer when adult children face challenges.
Many of these initiatives are in line with the new vision for social protection of children set out in the Independent Review, which calls for national changes such as a more decisive and focused child protection response, proposals to unlock potentially wider networks of families and trusted adults. to take care of the children.
The report states that its proposals are rooted in the belief that the first task of society is to care for children and that the child welfare system must accompany and strengthen the families and communities in which children grow up, who provide them with a source of “love and belonging”.
He goes on to say, “It means unleashing the potential of wider family networks to care for children. When care is needed, it means providing loving relationships and healing homes.
“It means nurturing the foundations of a good life for the caring community – to be loved, to excel in education, to have a good home, to have meaningful work and to be healthy.”