Almost a year ago the Government won an election with a significant majority of MPs (365) which makes them capable of introducing their promises as a matter of priority. Clearly the emergence of COVID-19 would have impacted any Government whatever the number of MPs, but equally the impact of COVID-19 has raised some of the themes much higher up in the list of priorities. One of the themes was located on page 14 of the 2019 Manifesto which was the call for a Care Review under the heading of Vulnerable Children. Back on the 2nd March before COVID led to a lockdown the statement from Gavin Williamson emerged in response to a question from Margaret Ferrier, an SNP MP who stated
The Scottish Government have undertaken a review to consider the experiences and outcomes for young people in care in Scotland. Will the UK Government carry out a similar exercise in England?
Yesterday on 24th November (so nearly 9 months after Gavin made that statement) Anne Longfield the children’s commissioner for England explained in a speech that local authority children’s services “are on the edge of a precipice” due to a lack of funding to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic and delays to long-awaited reforms. There has been a 16% fall in funding over the last decade whilst there has been an increase in referrals of over 100%. Last year, local authorities overspent on children’s services by around £800m and children’s social care will need an additional £3bn to £4bn a year “just to stand still”, Longfield added and she has described 2021 as a “real crunch point” for councils on this subject. She pointed out that there are currently 80,000 children in care in England and that 400,000 children have a social worker and that the state is providing help in an “inconsistent way”, and that children are not achieving the outcomes they should.
Three weeks ago at the National Adult and Children’s Services Conference, Vicky Ford who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families promised further details of the review, including who had been chosen to chair the independent investigation, would be announced “shortly”. She said:
“I would like to reiterate that this government will meet its manifesto commitment, launching our wide-ranging Children’s Social Care Review. While it has inevitably been delayed by the pandemic, it will not be a review that is written, shelved, and forgotten about. “It will be bold, broad, and independently led. It will be a wide-ranging, ambitious review that makes a real difference to these children’s lives, helping them overcome the adversity they have experienced and unleashing their potential.”
On Friday in a response to this question from Tim Loughton on a less specific theme Vicky Ford ended her answer with these final few words
The government has committed to undertaking a bold, broad and independently led care review. This will launch as soon as possible and will support improvements in the children’s social care system.
Earlier in the same week the House of Lords were debating Children in Care in unregulated accommodation and in response to a question from Dominic Hubbard, Elizabeth Berridge stated
I welcome the noble Lord’s comments; there will be a care review in relation to children’s social care, and I would welcome his input into that review, particularly on children with special educational needs.
The question has to be when will this get started. If there was an announcement regarding its beginning between now and the 11th December so in the next 12 working days, the promise in the manifesto would have occurred in a starting sense within a year. Let us hope that does occur. He was the statement in the manifesto:
Children who end up in care are more likely to struggle as adults, denied the love and stability most of us take for granted. We will prioritise stable, loving placements for those children – adoption where possible or foster parents recruited by the local authority. We will review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need.
A strong society needs strong families. We will improve the Troubled Families programme and champion Family Hubs to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support they need to care for children – from the early years and throughout their lives.