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Reform of Children’s Social Care

Volume 827: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2023


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 2 February.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about how we plan to reform children’s social care.

My first visit in this role was to a children’s home in Hampshire. The young people I met were full of excitement and enthusiasm for the opportunities ahead. One wanted to be a hairdresser or perhaps a beautician—she was still deciding—and another was set to follow his dreams and join the Navy. They all wanted to have the same opportunities as their friends, and our job is to make sure that all children should have those opportunities. It is why levelling up was the guiding principle of our 2019 manifesto.

On this visit, I could not have seen a more vivid example of how our dedicated professionals can change young lives. I am sure all colleagues will join me in paying tribute to the phenomenal work of our social workers and family support workers, directors of children’s services, foster and kinship carers, children’s home staff and so many others across the country. It is thanks to them, as well as to children’s talent, resilience and determination to succeed, that many who have had a tough start in life go on to thrive.

While the care review, the child safeguarding practice review panel on the tragic deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the Competition and Markets Authority pointed to some good and innovative practice in children’s social care, they were also unequivocal in showing us that we are not delivering consistently enough for children and young people. These reviews provide us with a vision of how to do things differently, and how to help families overcome challenges at the earliest stage, keep children safe and ensure that those in care have loving and stable homes. I accept whole- heartedly their messages, and give special thanks to those who led and contributed—Josh MacAlister and his team, Annie Hudson and the rest of the panel, and the Competition and Markets Authority. Many thousands of people with lived and personal experience of the system also contributed and told their stories to these reviews, and I extend my heartfelt thanks to them for helping us to reach this point.

My honourable friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) came to this House eight months ago and committed to action from day one to respond to the care review, and I commend him for all his work while he was the Minister for Children and Families. Since then, we have established a national implementation board, with members to advise, support and challenge us on the delivery of reform. We have set up a new child protection ministerial group to champion safeguarding at the highest levels. We have launched a data and digital solutions fund to unlock the potential of technology, and we have started work to increase foster care placements. This work, coupled with the direction of the reviews and successful initiatives such as the Supporting Families programme and the innovation programme, has provided us the confidence to go further to achieve our ambitions for children.

I know that both Houses and all parties support bold and ambitious reform. This Government are determined to deliver that, and I am pleased to announce that today we will publish our consultation and implementation strategy, Children’s Social Care: Stable Homes, Built on Love, which sets out how we will achieve broad, system-wide transformation.

We want children to grow up in loving, safe and stable families where they can flourish. The Prime Minister recently spoke about the role of families in answering the profound questions we face as a country. Where would any of us be without our family? That is true for me and I am sure it is true for everybody. My parents, my brother, my sister and my wider family had a huge role in shaping who I am, and they continue to do so.

When children are not safe with their families, the child protection system should take swift and decisive action to protect children. Where children cannot stay with their parents, we should look first at wider family networks and support them to care for the child. Where a child needs to enter care, the care system should provide the same foundation of love, stability and safety. Over the next two years, we plan to address some urgent issues and lay the foundations for wider-reaching reform across the whole system. Our strategy is backed by £200 million of additional investment, so we can start reforms immediately and build the evidence for future rollout. We know this is something that partners support, including local government. This investment builds on the £3.2 billion provided at the Autumn Statement for children and adult’s social care.

After that, we will look to scale up our new approaches and bring forward the necessary underpinning legislation, subject to parliamentary time. We will listen to those with experience of the system as we deliver. This starts today, as we consult on our strategy and the children’s social care national framework. Our strategy will focus on six pillars of action to transform the system. We will provide the right support at the right time, so that children thrive within their families and families stay together through our family help offer. We will strengthen our child protection response by getting agencies to work together in a fully integrated way, led by social workers with greater skills and knowledge. We will unlock the potential of kinship care so that, wherever possible, children who cannot stay with their parents are cared for by people who know and love them already. We will reform the care system to make sure that we have the right homes for children in the right places. We must be ambitious for children in care and care leavers, and provide them with the right support to help them thrive and achieve their potential into adulthood. We will provide a valued, supported and highly skilled social worker for every child who needs one, and make sure that the whole system continuously learns and improves and makes better use of evidence and data.

I will set out some of our key activity over the next two years to deliver this shift. On family help, we will deliver pathfinders with local areas to test a model of family help, and integrated and expert child protection, to make sure that we support family networks and help them get the early help they need. On child protection, we will consult on new child protection standards and improve leadership across local authorities, the police, health and education through updates to the statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children. On unlocking the benefits of alternatives to care, we will publish a national kinship care strategy by the end of 2023, and invest £9 million to train and support kinship carers before the end of this Parliament.

For children in care and care leavers, we will deliver a fostering programme to recruit and retain more foster carers, and pathfind regional care co-operatives to plan, commission and deliver care places. We will fund practical help for care leavers by increasing the available leaving care allowance from £2,000 to £3,000, and strengthening our offers so that children can stay with their foster carers or close to their children’s home when they leave care. In recognition of the great work that foster carers do and the increasing costs of living, we are raising the national minimum allowance and foster carers will benefit from a 12.43% increase to that allowance. We will consult on strengthening and widening our corporate parenting responsibilities so that more public bodies provide the right support to care leavers.

On the workforce, we will bring forward a new early career framework to give social workers the right start, and support employers with a virtual hub sharing best practice. We will expand the number of child and family social worker apprentices by up to 500, and we will reduce our reliance on agency workers by consulting on national rules related to their use. For this system, we will assemble an expert forum to advise on how we make the most of the latest technology and publish a data strategy by the end of this year. We will introduce a children’s social care national framework to set out our system outcomes and expectations for practice, and align this with the work of Ofsted.

This strategy sets out a pathway towards fundamental, whole-system reform of children’s social care. We are rising to Josh MacAlister’s challenge to be ambitious, bold and broad for the sake of vulnerable children and families. I thank all those who guided us here, including my honourable friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), my right honourable friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and my honourable and learned friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), who contributed so much along the journey.

Too many children and families have been let down, and we are determined to make the changes needed. We must remember the stories and the lives of Arthur and Star and the children who came before them. We must settle for nothing less than wide-reaching, long-lasting change. Today we set the direction of travel and make a pledge on a future system that will help to provide all vulnerable children with the start in life they deserve.

As the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, my honourable friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), noted in November in the House, our ambition is to lay the foundations for a system built on love and family. I believe that this strategy and the actions we are taking now will deliver that. Family will be central to the way we deliver our ambitions. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, we welcomed the conclusions of The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which quite rightly called for a radical reset of the childcare system. There will be a lot to scrutinise in the Government’s strategy, but giving children stable homes, built on love is something we all want to see. I thank Josh MacAlister and his team for their inspirational report. I especially thank those who work with children each day and, most of all, the children themselves, who played a central role in the report. The review takes place in a very challenging context for children’s social care: we have seen Sure Start centres closing, preventive services stripped away and young people abandoned in unregulated settings, including some, heartbreakingly, in semi-independent homes miles away from their homes.

At the same time, we see some providers raking in, frankly, obscene profits, and the response from the Government so far is not sufficient. It is not the radical reset that we need. What additional funding there is is welcome, but it risks becoming just another sticking plaster. There is insufficient vision for the direction of children’s social care; it is still insufficient in ambition for our most vulnerable children. Government is about what we do and how, but we still do not know how the Government will pull together the different departments that must now step up and work together so that change can be lasting and impactful. That will not happen without strong grip from the centre. Whether it is for looked-after children themselves, kinship carers or social care workers, the system is just not working: 43% of children’s services departments are currently rated as inadequate or as requiring improvement. Does the Minister think that the announcements the Government have made so far will lead to the current dire situation improving? I want to think that, but I do not at the moment.

On the issue of workforce, we have unsung heroes working with children in every community in the country. They change lives every day, and we thank them. Sadly, however, the gaping hole in these reforms is the lack of a sustainable workforce plan, and without that, so little will be achieved in the long term.

Last year, the 20 biggest private providers of children’s homes and private foster placements made £300 million in profits. Are the Government sure that those private providers are offering the best value for money, the best quality of care, the best services and, most importantly, the best opportunities for these children? I welcome the consultation on national rules for the use of agency social workers. It is a good step, which I hope will help to achieve better outcomes, but to go after agency social workers rather than the worst providers is reaching for the low-hanging fruit and does not get to the root of the problem. The Government need to do both.

We want stable homes, built on love. I am still worried that these piecemeal measures will not lead to the long-lasting, loving relationships that every child in the social care system deserves.

My Lords, I, too, thank all those involved in the care review, who have done such an important piece of work and pay tribute to the utter dedication and commitment of all those in the social care workforce. I welcome the Government’s plans to reform children’s social care and to rebalance the system towards early support for families. However, we need to see action quickly, backed up by funding, because children’s social care is in crisis.

More than 80,000 children are in care in England, more than ever before. The record number of children looked after by the state, and the horrific killings of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, as well as the abuse of disabled children recently uncovered in residential settings in Doncaster, are powerful reminders of the urgent need for sustained reform. The care review estimates that, without this reform, the number will rise to 100,000 within a decade, with the costs rising from £10 billion to £15 billion a year. As the costs of simply accommodating children grow, local authorities are spending less on the critical preventive services that can save money, reduce harm and keep families together.

I welcome the proposals to trial new family help teams, more early support and more integrated and expert-led approaches to child protection and to promote kinship care and develop new approaches to the planning, commissioning and delivery of care placements, together with a fostering recruitment drive. In particular, I welcome the proposal to extend corporate parenting duties to a range of public bodies and authorities. That is all a step in the right direction, but—and it is a big but—this strategy does not address the urgency of the crisis that vulnerable children face. It does not meet the £2.6 billion funding commitment called for by the care review, nor the £778 million that local authorities need to close the children’s social care budget gap. It will not, of itself, address the chronic shortage of care placements in some parts of England. It drags the reform processes out by more than a decade, by which time many of today’s vulnerable children will already be adults.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. We are told that the Government will improve social workers’ mental health expertise, which is good—I welcome it. However, given that care-experienced children and young people are at a greater risk of experiencing mental ill-health than their peers, what measures are the Government taking to improve access to mental health services for that group? The strategy says that the Government will launch a recruitment drive for 500 more social worker apprentices and support local authorities to improve retention to reduce reliance on costly agencies. That is good but, given the current high level of vacancies and very high turnover rates, what else are the Government doing to improve the working conditions of social workers and promote the professionalism of the sector?

Will the Minister commit to increased funding for children’s social care now to stabilise the current system while the reforms are being implemented? Will she also commit to investing £2 billion into family help once the pathfinder programme is complete, as was initially recommended by the care review? Can she tell us what proportion of children in care will be helped by the proposals in the Government’s implementation plan in this Parliament? What assessment has she made of the impact that a delayed rollout of the children’s social care reforms will have?

We welcome the recruitment of foster carers, but can the Minister say how exactly they will be targeted so as to recruit carers who can care for children not currently well served by the system, such as sibling groups, older teenagers and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children? Also, what safeguards will the Government put in place to ensure that the development of regional commissioning and procurement does not lead to more children being placed out of area?

Finally, the recent Health and Care Act—which so many noble Lords in this Chamber, myself included, were involved in—included a commitment for the Department for Education to come back to Parliament within one year with the results of a review of the sharing of data and information and the practicalities of the use of a consistent child identifier. The social care implementation plan mentions proposed approaches to data and information sharing. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are still in favour of the use of a consistent child identifier? If the Minister is not able to answer my questions now, will she write to me?

My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their remarks and questions and for recognising the incredibly important work that our social workers do all around the country. I echo in particular their thanks to those care-experienced young people who worked with the department in putting together our response to the reviews and who are, in many cases, continuing to work with us through implementation.

If I may, I will start with the importance of implementation, but I think that I will also finish with the importance of implementation. All the points that both noble Baronesses have raised are valid questions to ask, and I will do my very best to answer them, but we know that this is an area that is not a new problem. The problem may have evolved and may be in a particular state at the moment, but the need to implement change effectively—and implement high-quality responses, which I know both noble Baronesses and all your Lordships care deeply about—is vital. That is why we have chosen the approach of “test and learn” through pathfinder sites so that, when we come to scale up, we can be as confident as it is possible to be that we have the evidence of—as the noble Baroness opposite said—not just what we are going to do but, at a local level, how it is going to work on the ground from the beginning to end of the experience of that child and family coming into contact with services.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, questioned whether this was really a “radical reset”—she used the term “sticking plaster” and spoke about a lack of vision. Our ambition is aligned to that which Josh MacAlister set out in his review. We believe that the changes we are proposing and will be testing are radical. Through this work, we are sending the system a very clear message about a focus on family help. I know that both noble Baronesses will have read the Government’s response; the theme of family help goes through pretty much every one of the pillars.

We have talked a lot in your Lordships’ House about the truly preventive work that we believe is going on, and will go on, in family hubs. This will be at the earlier intervention end of the spectrum, as opposed to truly preventive, but some of the work that we will be doing to merge early help teams and children in need teams will respond to what children and families tell us, which is that they feel that they are being endlessly assessed and not getting enough support. We want less assessment—we want good assessment, but to have that as streamlined as possible—and more help.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, spoke about the 80,000 children in the care system and she is right that that figure is very high. There are some particular factors that have influenced that: one is obviously a growth in population; the other is the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are in this country, many of whom stay in the care system much longer than might be the case for children who have gone into care in other ways. Obviously, the proof of the pudding will be in the delivery and that is why we will be putting so much focus and emphasis on the 12 pathfinder sites.

Both noble Baronesses raised the question of the children’s social care workforce, which of course has risen in absolute terms and is currently at 32,500, but we are absolutely aware of the pressures within the workforce. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked what else we are doing. She will have seen that we will be introducing an early career framework for social workers. We are supporting recruitment more broadly, including in relation to apprentices: we have seen some local authorities offering apprenticeship opportunities in this area and it is something that we think we can learn from, build on and support. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said, we are consulting on the use of agency staff. The level of use of agency staff has risen a lot, it puts an important financial burden on local authorities, and we want to understand better the reasons behind it and what appropriate levels might be.

As for our confidence that the system is improving, the noble Baroness will be aware that in 2017 only 36% of local authorities were judged good or outstanding by Ofsted. That figure is now 56% and the number of inadequate local authorities has fallen from 30 to 16. There has been, and continues to be, very active intervention and support from the department for those local authorities and we think we are on a good trajectory with that, but we recognise that there is still more to do.

On children’s homes, I think the noble Baroness knows my views on some of the profits, so I do not need to repeat them; I think my popularity on the Benches opposite rose at that point. The House should be aware that we have already announced an investment of £259 million to expand the number of children’s homes. We agree that it is not acceptable that children are sent miles from their roots. We are going to do a pathfinder for two regional care co-operatives, which we think will support the sector better in future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked about the focus on foster carers—she might have spoken my briefing for me. The areas she highlighted were sibling groups, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and others, and those are exactly the areas where our investment in expanding the number of foster carers will be focused. The Government still support the consistent child identifier to which she referred.

Both noble Baronesses challenged the amount of funding that the Government have committed at this point. I think it is important that we do not compare apples and pears. Josh MacAlister’s review was for a five-year period and national implementation, and he recommended £2.6 billion of investment. We have announced, at this point, £200 million over two years, with a focus on pathfinders principally in those 12 areas that I referred to, although there will be two regional care co-operatives and seven additional specific pathfinders in relation to kinship care. So, we are not comparing the same things there.

I understand and very much respect the challenge from the noble Baroness opposite about the speed of implementation. We are balancing quality versus speed and if we are successful in those 12 pathfinders, delivering in the way the whole House hopes they will deliver, we will be able to scale up and review the funding that is required at that time.

My Lords, the steps taken to expand kinship care are extremely welcome, but does the Minister recognise that they are also extremely modest? They are really just scratching the surface of the problem and until the Government are prepared to grasp the nettle of funding for kinship carers, we are not going to get the big expansion we ought to have. Does she also agree that there is now a lot of evidence that kinship care is a cost-effective way of addressing the problems of children who need care and that it will, in the end, be less costly than their being fostered or sent to homes? If that is so, could the Government please get on with it?

The Government are getting on with it. As I said earlier, there is a huge focus in our response on family-led solutions, and kinship care is an invaluable part of that. In addition to the £9 million we have committed for training and supporting kinship carers—who do an extraordinary job—we will be publishing a national kinship care strategy by the end of the current year. That will look at a number of the issues that have been rightly raised, such as educational entitlement, training, improved and more consistent local authority practice, and exploring financial allowances. I accept the noble Lord’s point that kinship care is, most importantly, a hugely valuable part of what is offered and, secondly, cost-effective.

My Lords, one of the previous initiatives announced by the Government is priority admission to schools for looked-after and previously looked-after children. Obviously, the priorities are to get them into good and outstanding schools—where not just the education but the leadership, pastoral care and safeguarding systems are good—and for schools to know that they have to plan and keep places available in case looked-after children come into their area. Can the Minister outline what progress has been made on this? Do we have the data on a local authority area to see in which schools children end up—free school meals data is not a proxy for this because if you have been adopted, you may no longer qualify for free school meals—and whether the children are getting into good and outstanding schools? Is there an awareness of these issues? I have had to advise people informally, even though they have been through a lengthy process to become foster carers, because they did not seem to be aware that if they take in children, that comes with priority school admission.

My noble friend is right that getting looked-after and previously looked-after children into the right school and getting them the support they deserve within that school is a really important element of changing their life trajectory. My understanding is that it varies between local authorities, in part because of different levels of school places, but if there is data on that I would be very happy to write to my noble friend and share it.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Government have broadly supported the recommendations of Josh MacAlister’s report, but I am sure the noble Baroness will recognise that I am somewhat underwhelmed at the pace and conviction of actually making sure it happens quickly enough to change, in real terms, the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children in our society.

I echo what others have said about kinship care, which I have talked about a lot in this House before. What kinship care does, and what we need to look at in other settings, is to allow children and young people to have a consistent relationship with the person who is caring for them. One of the shocking discoveries, in a sense—it was not unknown—was the number of social workers and carers, and the fact that children would go out in the morning and not know which carer was going to be there when they came back in the evening. That really has to be addressed.

When do the Government expect to roll out the pathfinders, and when do they expect to move from a rollout to a more universal service? What is happening with family hubs? The only way we will change from the crisis intervention we now have is through much more effective early intervention. Family hubs are the model that the Government are going with, and I am very happy with that. As the Secretary of State said last week, it needs to be a universal service, but we are a million miles and a lot of money away from that. Can the Minister tell the House about that unrolling of family hubs so that we really can have universal preventive services?

I share the noble Baroness’s desire that everything should be done as quickly as is humanly possible. I hope she would agree, though, that the Government are sending a very strong signal to every local authority that a family-first approach, if you like, is important and gets the best outcomes for children. That is why we are investing £30 million in programmes such as Lifelong Links to make sure that extended family connections for children in local authority care are explored as much as possible—family finding, befriending, mentoring and all those services. Those things will be happening quickly and are directed at our most vulnerable children.

The first pathfinders will start this autumn, and there will be a second tranche next year. They are running for two years, at which point we will review the next steps. On family hubs and universality, if I understood what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said last week, and as the noble Baroness knows, we are rolling out family hubs in 75 local authority areas. Access to them is universal. If I am right, I think the distinction is that there were certain eligibility criteria in Sure Start’s early stages in particular. The noble Baroness is shaking her head; perhaps I misunderstood, but that was my honest impression. If I am wrong on that, I apologise. I am confident that there are no eligibility criteria for family hubs, and obviously there is a wider age range.

My Lords, first, I declare my interest as a governor of Coram, which has been adopting and looking after children since 1739. I want to ask the noble Baroness a question about leadership. There are a variety of institutions in our country which are in a state of crisis and require strong leadership to turn them around. I point out that in the decade between 2007 and 2017, there were four Children’s Ministers in office, and in the five and a half years since June 2017, there have been no less than eight. I suspect that there is a degree of correlation between the deterioration in the system and the lack of consistent leadership. I suspect that it is above her pay grade—it is certainly above mine—to influence who is and is not the Children’s Minister. However, I suggest, from a long experience in helping businesses try to change, that it would seem a sensible insurance policy to make sure that within the ministry there is a core team of individuals who are completely focused on the breadth and depth of these recommendations; who are properly resourced; who are the best people to be in charge; and who are there to ensure continuity as Ministers change, to get them up to speed as quickly as possible and to make them as effective as possible.

Of course, the noble Lord is right that leadership is incredibly important. As regards the core team, that is what we are lucky enough to have in our senior civil servants, who have huge subject expertise—I spent time with them earlier today—and an extraordinary personal commitment to delivering on these reforms.

My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, particularly about lifelong relationships, I welcome the Government’s emphasis on ensuring that children in care have good-quality, lifelong relationships. On that subject, Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes both lived with unrelated adults—a situation in which children are nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries than if they live with both biological parents. The national review said that the risk from new partners was not considered in either case. Apart from the reducing parental conflict programme, what else are the Government doing to make parents and professionals aware of the greater risks from parental relationship breakdown—the elephant in the room—which ultimately leads to so many children coming into care, or worse?

Sadly, my noble friend is right about the problem that he articulates, which is very clear. I think that the experts and professionals working in the sector are clear that relationship breakdown, and domestic violence and abuse in particular, are very important reasons for children being taken into care. My noble friend is right that more needs to be done to raise awareness around some of the specifics that he cited. However, I suppose I feel that it is not sufficient to be aware of it; as my noble friend suggests, one needs to know what we then need to do about it. Work will come out of this review on the standards that we will be setting for all multiagency partners, and being clear about information sharing, which is a theme that comes out of every serious case review that I have ever read. However, with all that we just need a relentless focus on the quality of implementation, which is what we plan to bring to this.

My Lords, the Government refer in their six pillars of transformation to one of those being unlocking the potential of kinship care, and I want to return to that. Although developing a national kinship care strategy is welcome and a significant step towards ensuring that kinship care is properly supported and that more children remain safely in their family network, for it to be delivered and for it to make a real difference it needs cross-government buy-in, from the Treasury, the DfE, the MoJ and from BEIS—not just conversations but real buy-in, with the money following through from that. So I would really welcome even stronger assurances from the Minister unequivocally that the strategy has cross-government buy-in and that the adequate funding to match the ambition will be provided. On the current budget it cannot meet that ambition—we all know that intuitively. In addition to all the support structures that are needed, which have been articulated by others in this debate, we have the issues of advice services that are critical, legal advice, financial support to these families and employment rights, all of which need to be addressed if we really are going to fulfil the ambition of unlocking the potential of kinship carers, because, as I have said on previous occasions, the barriers are quite dysfunctional at the moment.

The noble Baroness asks me to predict the outcome of the strategy that we are consulting on. Obviously, I cannot do that, but I can share with the House the scale of the Government’s ambition and the value that the Government place on kinship care. This is the first time that there will be national training and support for kinship carers, so it is an important step forward in the short term. We know that there has already been a move from the Ministry of Justice in terms of extending legal aid to special guardians in family court proceedings. We are exploring other workplace entitlements with colleagues across government for kinship care, as in cases where they have special guardianship orders or child arrangement orders—and, as I said, we will be looking at educational entitlements, local authority practice, training, and financial allowances, which I think encompasses quite a few government departments.

My Lords, further to the excellent question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the last question, from the noble Baroness, one of the conclusions that I reached after dealing with many constituency cases was that so many social service departments do not involve the wider family—aunts, uncles, grandparents. We all agree that it is incredibly important to prioritise kinship care. What is the Minister going to do to change the culture and attitudes of different social service departments?

I mentioned earlier that we are keen to establish and clarify, as your Lordships and my noble friend have highlighted this afternoon, that there is variability of response, understanding, support and capacity from local authorities in relation to kinship care. We want to be clear about what good practice looks like. We are also working with Ofsted to raise the visibility of kinship care in its inspection framework. Everyone violently agrees about the value of kinship care. The question is how we make sure that it is available and supported, and that some of those barriers to which my noble friend refers are removed.

My Lords, the report has some very positive elements. Overall, I share the view of many noble Lords that it is a disappointment. I would not call it a missed opportunity, because time will tell on that. However, Mr MacAlister himself must be disappointed, because the call that he made for a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset the delivery of children’s social care will not be met in terms of the report and its contents thus far.

There are two more consultations. I want to hinge again on the question of funding, which is well short of what MacAlister asked for. In the Statement, the Government say that they are determined to deliver

“bold and ambitious reform”.

Well, that will not be achieved with the sort of funding that we have heard about so far.

Kinship seems to be the central theme of this session. In the Statement, the Government say that they will

“invest £9 million to train and support kinship carers before the end of this Parliament.”

Well, that could be 18 months away, and £9 million would be about £50 per kinship carer. If that is not scratching the surface, I really do not know what is. It is not like him, but if anything, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, understated the case when he talked about the financial benefits that kinship carers bring. They save the Government countless millions and do not get the recognition either of that fact or of the work that they do.

Perhaps I might ask the Minister another question on kinship care. The review called for a single legal definition of kinship care to be written into law to improve recognition of the varying forms of kinship care arrangement and to improve access to the support that carers and their children need. Does the Minister recognise the many benefits to having a clear definition of kinship care enshrined in legislation?

On funding, I have made the point that we are talking about a two-year programme in selected areas, not five years nationally. The reason for that choice is that we believe it is critical to get the quality of implementation right, on the ground, before scaling. Secondly, I remind the noble Lord that spending on children’s social care is £10.8 billion annually. There was a £3.2 billion uplift to the adult and children’s social care budget in the autumn, so the Government are already committing very large sums of money to this area—as we rightly should.

On the definition of kinship care, we want to strike a balance that retains flexibility, as every family potentially has a slightly different model for how kinship care works, and absolute clarity, as we want to make it easy for families to deliver this and for them to feel supported. Whether that is through a definition or not is a slightly different question, but it is our aspiration to retain those two things.