With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on how the Government are responding to “The independent review of children’s social care” and the Competition and Markets Authority’s children’s social care report.
This Government believe in a country where all children are given an equal chance to fulfil their potential, but sadly we are not there yet. That is why we made our manifesto commitment to launch the independent review of children’s social care in March 2021; its report was published today. The review was commissioned to take a fundamental look at the children’s social care system, and to gain an understanding of how we must transform it to better support the most vulnerable children and families. I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Josh MacAlister and his team for this comprehensive review, as well as thanking the children, the experts by experience board, and the care leavers, families and carers who shared their experiences of the current system and their aspirations for a future one.
The review is bold and broad, calling for a reset of the system so that it acts decisively in response to abuse, provides more help for families in crisis, and ensures that those in care have lifelong loving relationships and homes. I look forward to working with the sector, those with first-hand experience and colleagues in all parts of the House to inform an ambitious and detailed Government response and implementation strategy, to be published before the end of 2022. To get us there, I have three main priorities. The first is to improve the child protection system so that it keeps children safe from harm as effectively as possible; the second is to support families to care for their children so that they can have safe, loving and happy childhoods which set them up for fulfilling lives, and the third is to ensure that there are the right placements for children in the right places, so that those who cannot stay with their parents grow up in safe, stable and loving homes.
To enable me to respond effectively and without delay, I will establish a national implementation board consisting of people with experience of leading transformational change, to challenge the system to achieve the full extent of our ambitions for children. The board will also include people with their own experience of the care system, to remind us of the promise of delivery and the cost of delay.
I want to be straight about this: too many vulnerable children have been let down by the system. We cannot level up if we cannot make progress on children’s social care reform. However, we are striving to change that. Our work to improve the life chances of children is already well under way, and is aligned with the key themes of the review and the CMA report. On 2 April, we backed the Supporting Families programme with £695 million, which means that 300,000 of the most vulnerable families will be supported to provide the safe and loving homes that their children need in order to thrive.
We welcome the review’s recognition of this programme as an excellent model of family intervention, and today, with the review as our road map, we are going further. We will work with the sector to develop a national children’s social care framework, which will set a clear direction for the system and point everyone to the best available evidence for how to support children and families. We will set out more detail later this year.
I pay tribute to every single social worker who is striving to offer life-changing support to children and families day in, day out. Providing more decisive child protection relies on the knowledge and skills of these social workers, which is why I support the principle of the review’s proposed early career framework. We will set out robust plans to refocus the support that social workers receive early on, with a particular focus on child protection, given the challenging nature of this work.
We will also take action to drive forward the review’s three data and digital priority areas, ensuring that local government and partners are in the driving seat of reform. Following the review’s recommendation for a data and technology taskforce, we will introduce a new digital and data solutions fund to help local authorities to improve delivery for children and families through technology. More detail will follow later this year on joining up data from across the public sector so that we can increase transparency, both between safeguarding partners and the wider public.
Recognising the urgency of action in placement sufficiency, we will prioritise working with local authorities to recruit more foster carers. This will include pathfinder local recruitment campaigns that build towards a national programme, to help to ensure that children have access to the right placements at the right time. As the review recommends, we will focus on providing more support throughout the application process to improve the conversion rate from expressions of interest to approved foster carers.
Delivering change for vulnerable children is my absolute priority and, as suggested by the review, I will return to the House on the anniversary of its publication to update colleagues on progress made.
This statement also provides an opportunity to welcome the recommendations set out in the Competition and Markets Authority report into the children’s social care market, which was published in March. As an initial response, I have asked my Department to conduct thorough research into the children’s homes workforce, engaging with the sector and with experts to improve oversight of the market.
Sadly, we know that too many children are still not being protected from harm quickly enough. This is unacceptable. On Thursday, the child safeguarding practice review panel will set out lessons learned from the heartbreaking deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the Secretary of State for Education will come to this House to outline the Government’s initial response to these tragic cases. For too long, children’s social care has not received the focus it so desperately needs and deserves. I am determined to work with colleagues across the House and with local authorities across our country to deliver once-in-a-generation reform so that the system provides high-quality help at the right time, with tangible outcomes. For every child who needs our protection, we must reform this system. For every family who need our help and support, we must reform this system. For every child or young person in care who deserves a safe, stable and loving home, we must reform this system. This is a moral imperative, and we must all rise to the challenge. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement today. Labour welcomes the report of the independent review of children’s social care. I would like to add my thanks to Josh MacAlister and his team for their hard work and commitment. I also want to pay tribute to the social workers, support workers, foster carers, children’s home staff, youth workers and everyone else who strives day in, day out to provide safety, support and stability to children who are in need or whose own families are unable to care for them. Their work is vital, it makes a huge difference, and it often goes unrecognised. At the top of my mind today are the group of care leavers I hosted in Parliament earlier this year. They were articulate, thoughtful and kind. All had been through experiences that no child should have to endure, and they all deserved far better than the current system had been able to deliver.
I welcome the review’s conclusion that a total reset of children’s social care is needed. That conclusion is a terrible indictment of the extent to which this Government have been failing children for more than a decade. During those 12 years, we have seen the number of children living in poverty rise to 4.3 million. That is a key causal factor underpinning the Government’s failure of children: the unbearable pressure on families increases the risk of abuse and neglect. We have also seen the number of looked-after children increase continually, up by a quarter since 2010; the number of section 47 inquiries, when a local authority has cause to suspect that a child is in need, has gone up by 78% since 2011; half of all children’s services departments have been rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement”; vacancy and turnover rates for children’s social workers are increasing; and outcomes for care-experienced children and young people are worsening. In the meantime, the 10 biggest private providers of children’s homes and private foster care placements made a jaw-dropping £300 million in profits last year.
We welcome the review’s clear statement that providing care for children should not be based on profit—it should not. The law recognises childhood as lasting until the age of 18, and it is shocking that the Government have continued to allow children to be placed in unregistered children’s homes and other completely unsuitable accommodation. We welcome the review’s conclusion that the use of unregistered placements for 16 and 17-year-olds must stop, and stop now.
At the heart of the Government’s failure is the erosion of early help and family support, which is demonstrated no more starkly than by the 1,300 Sure Start centres that have closed since 2010. We welcome the review’s focus on restoring early help to families so that many more children can be supported to remain and to thrive with their own family, on supporting kinship carers and on seeking to ensure that every looked-after child can build lifelong links with extended family members.
Although the Minister reannounced a series of policies today, there is nothing here that will deliver the transformation in children’s social care that the review demands. Successive piecemeal announcements are yet further indication of what the review describes as
“a lack of national direction about the purpose of children’s social care”.
The Minister does not seem to grasp the depth of change that the review requires, at scale, across the whole country.
Will the Minister commit to a firm date for publication of a comprehensive response to the review and a detailed implementation plan? Does he expect that there will be a need for legislation? How does this square with the Queen’s Speech voted on last week, from which children’s social care was completely absent? How will today’s announcement of early help investment in a handful of additional places ensure that early help services are available in every single area of the country, so that every family who need help can be supported?
What representations is the Minister making to the Treasury in response to the review? Will he commit, as the review demands, to an end to profiteering in children’s social care? How will he ensure that the voices and experiences of children are always at the heart of children’s social care? How will he guarantee that the workforce, who are the backbone of children’s social care, are fully engaged and involved as the reforms are implemented? Finally, how will he ensure that, as the reforms are implemented, the framework of accountability for decisions made by the state about the care of children is strengthened?
This review sets out the urgent need for the Government to put children first and to stop poverty, mental illness, substance misuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse and other adverse childhood experiences becoming the defining experience of a child’s whole life, so that every child can thrive. Labour will always put children first. We did so in government, and we will do so again. This review represents an opportunity to deliver the total reset that is needed in children’s social care. It is an opportunity that must not be missed, and we will hold the Government to account every single day on the framework of support and the outcomes for our most vulnerable children.
The hon. Lady asks a lot of questions, and I genuinely mean it when I say that I want to have as much of a cross-party approach as possible in tackling this issue and delivering the review.
I thank the hon. Lady for her largely constructive comments, and I thank her for the tone in which she referred to the review. We all want to act on the review to bring about the change we all want to see. Although I completely understand why she wants to talk about the past, we have to be honest with ourselves that, despite years of real-terms funding increases to children’s social care, too many children and young people have been failed and let down, and are still being failed and let down, by the system. System reform is decades overdue, so I hope she will understand why I want to focus on the future and how we will look to implement the review.
The hon. Lady rightly pushes me on implementation, which is key. The Secretary of State and I are determined that this will not be just another report gathering dust on a shelf in Whitehall—this is far too important. That is why I am establishing an implementation board with sector experts to drive the change that we want and need to see. An implementation plan will be delivered by the end of this year.
Finally, the hon. Lady should not, in any way, doubt my personal determination to implement many of the review’s recommendations. Many colleagues who look at my Instagram feed say I have the best job in Government, and to some extent they are right, but what they do not see is that every weekend I read the serious incident notification report detailing all the children who have been killed, murdered, abused or neglected, or who have taken their own life, during the previous week. It is a harrowing read. I know that no legislation, process, procedure or review—however good it is—can prevent evil, and I cannot promise that there will not be further cases like Arthur, Star, Victoria, Daniel or Peter. However, with this most excellent review—it really is excellent—we have a plan, a road map, and an opportunity that we must and will grasp to ensure that such cases are as rare as they are tragic.
I strongly welcome the report, which is visionary in its scope. I thank Josh MacAlister for briefing me on its findings a few days ago. It is very much a “family, community and upwards” report, rather than a “top down from the Government” review, and that is important. I hope that the Government are bold on the funding issues raised—costs of, I think, more than £2.4 billion—and the proposal of a windfall tax on private companies to raise money for more vulnerable children.
As colleagues will know, the Education Committee is finalising our inquiry on the educational outcomes of children in care. We know that just 7% of children in care achieve a good pass grade in GCSE maths and English, and Josh MacAlister’s report says:
“In too many places the contribution and voice of education is missing”.
What are the Government doing to ensure that these vulnerable children are being placed in good or outstanding schools, and that they are receiving the right, targeted catch-up tuition and mentoring support to help them to catch up on lost learning and, ultimately, to get the good jobs that they rightly deserve when they come out of care?
Our intention is to be bold and ambitious. The plan is to set out an immediate response today. There will then be a full response and implementation plan by the end of the year. The Government and I very much welcome this reset opportunity, and I hope that our level of ambition is clear to the House.
My right hon. Friend is right that the results for children who have been through and are currently in the care system are unacceptable. His Select Committee is rightly working on a review into the matter, and I look forward to working closely with him. This is all about improving the outcomes and life chances of some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the country; the key is ensuring that they have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
What does the Minister intend to do to support children and families who are suffering in social care?
We have to ensure that we level up social care. What does that mean at its heart? Yes, it means continuing our investment in children’s social care, but it also means setting the level of ambition significantly higher, which is exactly why the Government initiated the independent review of children’s social care and are looking at the 80-plus recommendations closely, and why we have an implementation board, which will develop a clear implementation plan.
We are taking steps now, because this is not just about money; it is about culture change, system change, and process and procedure change. I hope that over the next days, weeks and months, we can get the right team in place and set the right strategic direction so that the plan can be ready by the end of the year and we can really get motoring with the change that the right hon. Lady and I so desperately want to see.
May I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
Mr Speaker, I know I am getting old; indeed, this week I take receipt, amazingly, of my senior person’s railcard. In my 25 years in this House, I have sat through many once-in-a-generation reform programmes, many children’s Acts and many reviews, some of which I launched myself and some of which my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) launched subsequently.
As the Minister quite rightly said, a review is only as good as its delivery, so why will it be any different this time? In particular, will he point to the welcome references —there are some very welcome points in this review, for which I pay tribute to Josh MacAlister—to “family help”, which seem similar to the Munro review’s “early help” 10 years ago? How do they interrelate with the family hubs that the Government are pushing forward and the welcome “best start in life” programme, which is being pushed forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom)?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he did as Children’s Minister when he was at the Department. He is right to say that we have to ensure that the implementation of this report and review is different from what has gone before. It may not shock him to know that in the back of my mind I have the 2014 special educational needs and disability review; that plan was bold and ambitious, and many considered it to be the right one, but the implementation was not and, as a result, it was not delivered and we have had to revisit it. That is why I am not going at this like a bull at a gate.
There are 80-plus recommendations and they have to be considered very carefully. We have to listen to the sector, stakeholders and others to make sure we get it right. That is why, although I have responded immediately to set out the things we can do right now, I am also setting up an implementation board to ensure that we listen to the sector experts with experience of transformational change, so that we can deliver the change that we all so desperately want to see. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the level of ambition and that he is desperate to see change, too.
I urge the Minister to look in particular at what happens to care leavers when they reach the age of 18 and how the support immediately falls away. Two organisations have been working on this issue for a long time: one, Every Child Leaving Care Matters, has been campaigning for a long time for additional support for people when they reach 18, and the other, Wild Intervention, is in my constituency. When the Minister does his review and comes to his conclusions, will he find out what happens when somebody goes from 17 to 18 years old? I do not want to speak for everyone, but I am not sure that I would have been capable of doing everything independently at the moment I turned 18. We seem to expect an awful lot from these young people.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. By bringing about some of the changes I have outlined, we will really change the game and turn around the life chances of some of the young people who have adverse experiences both in the care system and after it. I will of course look carefully at the detailed recommendations in the review. The key thing is not to see children’s social care as a siloed issue, because it is not just a Department for Education issue. Every Department, every local authority and even, dare I say, businesses need to step up, recognise some of the challenges that care leavers face and make appropriate changes. We are taking some immediate steps—over the next two years, we are investing £172 million in programmes such as staying put and staying close, and in support for personal advisers—but I am conscious that we need to do far more in this policy space.
As a paediatrician, I have seen far too many neglected children and children who have been injured by their parents or carers. I welcome Josh MacAlister’s report and thank the Minister for his commitment to the issue. I ask him to do two things. First, will he ensure that the plan leads to better evidence-based care for children, and not simply more bureaucracy? Secondly, will he look at schemes such as those I have seen at my medical practice, in which new babies—many children in care are young babies—are cared for with their parent, as a joint foster placement, thereby enabling the parent to develop the skills they need to provide ongoing care for their child?
My hon. Friend is a fount of experience on this and many other issues, especially those relating to safeguarding. She is right that we have to consider different and innovative approaches to keep families together wherever possible. When that cannot work, we should look into alternative arrangements. In future, I would like to pick my hon. Friend’s brains. I want all Members to contribute to how we deliver on the review.
First, will the Minister join me in extending gratitude to the thousands of social workers and family foster care workers who do the hard work day in, day out? We have a huge difficulty in my Birmingham, Hall Green constituency with children not being matched with families from certain minority groups because of the lack of awareness and the lack of families coming forward to foster. Will the Minister commit to making sure that when foster carers are not coming forward, everything will be done to encourage Muslim families and ethnic minority families to do so, so that the children do not miss out and the responsibilities to them are taken seriously?
I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. There are few professions that can claim to transform lives as much as child and family social workers. I know that he and colleagues from across the House will join me in paying tribute to those who work hard to support our most vulnerable children and families, delivering some of the most challenging and important work that is out there. We have invested another £100 million over the next two years alone in the recruitment, retention and professional development of child and family social workers in England, and we will do more in that space. Specifically related to his question about minority groups, he is right that we have a shortage of foster carers generally. All across the country, we need more foster carers of all different backgrounds to come forward, so we will be looking at a fostering campaign. We also need adopters to come forward, too. All of us across this House have a duty—even a moral imperative—to encourage as many people as possible to consider those roles.
I welcome this serious and substantial report, which is rightly ambitious for vulnerable children right across the country. It builds effectively on the Munro review, the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Children and Social Work Act 2017, as well as the learning from the innovation programme with projects such as Mockingbird. Although financial resource will be a part of making the report’s recommendations a reality, a huge amount of work will need to be undertaken, as my hon. Friend will know from the 13 pages of implementation advice in the report, over a significant period. Although the national implementation board is a good first step, may I have my hon. Friend’s assurance that he will try to ensure that there is relentless prioritisation, focus and delivery across the whole of Government, not just the Department for Education, which will be essential to make this happen for vulnerable children?
My hon. Friend has considerable experience from his years as children and families Minister, and I very much appreciate his past and ongoing wise counsel. He is right that implementation is key. This is not, as I mentioned, just a DfE issue. It is for every Government Department and every local authority to step up and act. Some of the changes within systems, local authorities and children’s services are cultural, and they will take time to embed, which is exactly why I am not rushing to legislation. We must take the time to get this right. This is, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, a fantastic piece of work, of more than 270 pages. To ensure that we get it right, we must digest it, stress-test it, market-test it and hear from stakeholders. We have some initial recommendations, but we will need a full implementation plan by the end of the year and help from the board to deliver it with a laser-like focus.
I welcome the review. The Minister says that he wishes to speak to stakeholders. I offer myself up wholeheartedly to provide any help that I can give. I want to ensure that he includes specialists in violence against women and girls, because that matter is handled woefully in children’s services in our country, with dreadful consequences. What comes out of this review and also the previous review into sexual exploitation of children is that, between 2018 and 2020, 22 16-and-17-year-olds tragically died while living in unregulated settings. Both reviews called for a stop to those deregulated settings. The Minister could do that today; I urge him to do so.
I thank the hon. Lady—dare I even say my hon. Friend? I had taken it for granted that she would be a key driver in helping to implement much of our plan. She rightly references victims of domestic abuse as needing and deserving help and support from a range of national and local services. I assure her that I am committed to working across Government to ensure that children’s social care works with the police, health, justice and, most importantly, victims and those who have experience of domestic abuse to get the support that they need, including, where appropriate, support with parenting. The statutory duty in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 will help us with that. On regulation, we have £142 million earmarked to support the regulation of settings for 17 and 18-year-olds.
I commend the work done by the review’s author Josh MacAlister, and all the families, young people and professionals who kindly shared their own experiences to form the review. Vulnerable children and families across the UK, especially in Keighley and the Bradford district, which I have spoken about so many times on this issue, need much better support, and that can only be achieved through a fundamental shift in how children’s social care services are delivered. I ask my hon. Friend to outline the new measures that will be implemented on the back of today’s announcements that specifically focus on children’s protections and the children’s protection system?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done alongside parliamentary colleagues in relation to Bradford. Keeping vulnerable children safe from harm is non-negotiable, and where a council is not meeting its duty to do that, we will act to protect children and put their needs first. As he knows, Bradford’s children’s social care is being lifted into a trust that will drive rapid improvements following recommendations made by the children’s services commissioner on what the council must do to improve.
On Thursday, the Secretary of State will set out more on immediate action in response to the tragic deaths of Arthur and Star. First, social worker early career support, especially around child protection expertise and specialism, will be key. Secondly, a national children’s social care framework will be developed, embedding best practice in every local authority and children’s services department up and down our country.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on kinship care and as a special guardian to my own grandson, I welcome the review and the Minister’s statement. At Education questions the Minister will have heard me congratulate Stockport children’s services on attaining a “Good” rating from Ofsted. However, I must say that my and my wife’s experience of Tameside children’s services was frankly dreadful. Will the Minister commit to delivering on the proposals in the MacAlister review to unlock the power of family networks, including the family group decision making and the package of support for kinship carers set out in the review?
On Tameside, where local authorities are failing to deliver high-quality children’s services the Department acts quickly and decisively. As the hon. Gentleman—I think I can call him my hon. Friend—knows, we are expecting Ofsted’s findings on Tameside in the coming weeks. I assure him that I will not hesitate to take action should it find failings.
On the broader point about kinship care and special guardians, I am full of admiration for anybody who steps up as the hon. Gentleman has; in many cases, it avoids a child’s going into care and keeps them within that loving family environment. It will not always be appropriate and it will not always work, but wherever possible we must explore it and ensure that social workers do so at the earliest opportunity—before a child is taken into care—and not as an afterthought. We will look carefully at the recommendations made in the independent review into children’s social care, but he can trust me when I say that I want us to change the game on kinship care and special guardians.
I welcome this excellent report and the Minister’s statement. In 2007 I worked with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and experts to publish a report into children’s social workers. Does the Minister agree with us that we need a career path that gives experienced children’s social workers the choice of staying on the frontline rather than moving into management?
I thank my hon. Friend for her considerable expertise in this space. We need to look at recruitment of social workers, but we must also look at retention. There is a real danger that we will lose experienced social workers not just to leadership, but to other areas and other council functions. That is why we are looking closely at the development of a national children’s social care framework and of social worker early career support, so that there is both progression and a specialism and expertise in child safeguarding. I would be happy to meet her to discuss her ideas further.
As the Minister has set out, kinship carers are unsung heroes who often step in at short notice to care for children that the local authority would otherwise care for. The review sets out what we already knew: the outcome for children in kinship care is often better than for others in non-parental care. Yet kinship carers receive no financial support unless they register as foster parents, a process that denies them parental responsibility for the child. I ask again: will the Minister accept the review’s recommendations that kinship carers get the same financial allowances as foster carers?
I will look very carefully at the review, which has more than 80 recommendations so I am tentative; I am not going to pick some to respond to immediately and some not. We are taking clear initial steps and I will publish an implementation plan by the end of the year. Broadly, I agree with the hon. Lady. There are two aspects to address if we want to ensure better outcomes and life chances for children and young people in care. If we can avoid children going into care by enabling them to stay with a kinship carer or special guardian, we must look at that. The secondary factor is the cost to local authorities, and therefore the taxpayer, of children going into care. Where there is the opportunity for them to stay with a family member, it can be advantageous for us to invest in that family member to avoid the child going into care, saving the taxpayer money and leading to better outcomes, so of course I am looking at that. I have given the hon. Lady the clearest steer I can, but I will respond by the end of the year.
I very much welcome the review. As the Minister knows, over the last few years we have had serious challenges in children’s social care in Stoke-on-Trent, but the city council is now taking significant action to improve children’s social care in the city and we have seen some promising signs. Does my hon. Friend welcome those improvements, and does he agree that we need partners to work with the city council—the police, health services and others—to drive further improvements?
I am pleased to see the improvements made in Stoke-on-Trent. My hon. Friend is absolutely right when he says that the Department for Education and local authorities cannot do this alone; they need other agencies and partners to be involved, and not just when it comes to safeguarding, although that is hugely important. We need the multi-agency approach, with all arms of the state, and indeed local businesses, communities and the voluntary sector, pulling together to improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in our country.
I truly welcome the report and thank Josh MacAlister for the work that he and his team have done on the review. The social cost of adverse outcomes reaches £23 billion a year, yet the recommendations looked at £2.6 billion over a five-year implementation period. They included bringing in regional care co-operatives, as has happened with adoption and permanency in the regional adoption agencies. Will the Minister ensure that the report is implemented in full—not bits picked out of it—and that the funding will be there?
I cannot commit to implementing the entire report in full; there are more than 80 recommendations and it is right that we take it away, stress-test it, consider all the aspects of the proposals and their consequences, intended and otherwise, and speak with the sector and stakeholders. I recognise the level of ambition and I support huge aspects of the review.
Funding is important, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is as committed as I am to ensuring that all children are given an equal chance to succeed by supporting the most vulnerable in our society. Look at the evidence from “The Case for Change”, which set out the initial findings of the care review: more than £2 billion into children’s social care; £695 million into the supporting families programme, a 40% increase which I know the hon. Lady will welcome; £259 million into building new children’s homes, secure and open; and the £300 million investment in family hubs in half the local authorities in our country.
I too welcome the report wholeheartedly. In my view, Josh MacAlister has set out a template for social policy in general, not just for children’s social care. Too often, our interventions in the social space are too late, too siloed and too statist, whereas what Mr MacAlister suggests is a framework around building stronger families and stronger communities that also funds prevention, in the knowledge that that will save money later, as well as distress. I see my right hon. Friends the Minister for Crime and Policing and the Home Secretary on the Treasury Bench, and we are talking about saving their budgets too. Does the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), accept the argument that up-front investment in a good system will save money later and pay for itself?
I certainly do accept that argument, but it is a case that we all will have to make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a significant spend-to-save argument in the review. It is important to stress that we have already invested significantly in early intervention. I talked about the package for families—family hubs, start for life services in more than 75 local authorities across our country, and the expansion of the supporting families programme. That is all part of the mix, but we will continue to consider carefully those issues on which the review suggests we should go further—in particular issues around early help and making the case for it. As I say, we have an ambitious implementation strategy and implementation plan, which I will report on by the end of the year.
As I speak, there are children in inappropriate placements—placements that are out of area, that are unregulated, and where there is no professionalism, not the right culture, not the love and compassion that are required, and more focus on profit and shareholder value. What will the Minister do to change that culture? He referred to shaping a market. In-house provision would save the taxpayer a considerable amount of money—and, very importantly, children would be centre stage.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that some providers out there are providing a very poor service to children and young people and are making excessive profits. We need to look at that, in short. The care review gives us a number of options. As a Conservative, I am not in and of itself against profit, as long as good-quality services are being provided that lead to good and high-quality outcomes for children and young people, and it represents good value for money for the taxpayer. Doing things in-house is not always cheaper and better, but it is important that we get value for money and have good outcomes. I have no issue with profit; I have an issue with profiteering, and that is why I will look closely at the Competition and Markets Authority’s report, and will respond fully by the end of the year.
I declare an interest, as my sister is a social worker. I have, over many years, seen poor outcomes for young people who have travelled through our care system, so I welcome the review and some of what was in it, but this is a complex area. As my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned, we have seen a number of reviews, and the many barriers in children’s social care that we all know about have come up again in the review. On his implementation board and the plan that will be brought forward before the end of year, will he take social workers with him, so that they feed into discussions on what that the measures look like on the ground? Also, can we truly tackle, once and for all, these two basic issues: the case load that social workers face in our local authorities; and the need to enable local authorities to support foster carers, so that the private sector no longer needs to fill that gap?
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s contribution, and I thank her sister for what she does as a social worker, as well as all social workers up and down our country. We are absolutely serious about reform and delivering the change that we all want. My hon. Friend mentioned two specific points. The first was about the case load, which is at the moment around 16 cases; that is down from about 20 in 2017, but the case load number is hugely misleading. I have rightly spent plenty of time with social workers up and down our country, and shadowed social workers in Cumbria, so I know that one case can take as long as 20. This is therefore not just about numbers. We have to look at the case load and social worker recruitment. On foster carers, it is absolutely right that we support them from the point at which they make an application or expression of interest to the point at which they become foster carers. Support should be ongoing, too, so that placements do not fail.
I have looked at the section in the report on children’s mental health, which is okay as far as it goes, but we know that child and adolescent mental health services are in absolute crisis. Figures were released yesterday that show that more children than ever are presenting with mental health problems, and many of them will not get the help that they need. Children in care can carry trauma with them their whole life if they are not helped. How will the Minister work with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to make sure that there is not a silo, and that he is not just looking at the aspects of mental health for which he bears responsibility? I am trying to avoid the phrase “joined-up working”, but genuine joined-up working is what we need.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and if there is one area in which we need less silo working, it is children’s mental health. My remit is broader than just Department for Education matters—it is around children more generally—so of course that issue concerns me. I can only do so much—there are the mental health support teams in schools, and senior mental health leads, in which we are making significant investment—but of course I meet regularly with my counterparts in the Department of Health and Social Care. Yes, that Department is making investments—for example, there is the £2.3 billion for mental health support—but in truth, too many children and young people are waiting too long for CAMHS services. We know that is a driver for children’s social care, so of course I will continue to have conversations with my counterparts to make sure that the issue remains a priority.
I enthusiastically welcome the report, and I thank Josh MacAlister for his work. I also give my sincere thanks to those with experience of care who contributed to it. It brought to my attention that of 160,000 people who registered an interest in fostering last year, only 2,000 were approved. That is an absolute tragedy for children in need of loving homes, but it is also a tragedy for the taxpayer. The Minister has talked reasonably about the need to divide issues into the things that he wants to take short-term steps on, and the things that will take longer, but can he assure us that on his immediate to-do list is ensuring that more people who want to foster get to do so in the short term?
I reiterate my thanks to Josh MacAlister and his team for this most excellent review. My hon. Friend is right that there will be an immediate laser-like focus on foster care recruitment—local, regional and, to some extent, national. That is hugely important because we need additional places. The figures are a bit misleading, because there are huge numbers of expressions of interests, often to multiple agencies, and there are some people in there whom we would not want to be foster carers. However, the number of expressions of interest versus the number of successful foster carers is not where we want it to be. That means massively increasing the pool and, when it comes to expressions of interest, really hand-holding and making sure that people get the support that they need to go through to fostering and beyond.