Today (02/2/23), the UK Government gave its official response to recommendations made by the independent review of children’s social care for England.

The long-awaited government response comes eight months after the children’s social care review for England published recommendations. The care review took place over 14 months and was hailed as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to reform services and systems. NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service) has been at the forefront of efforts to influence the review and the government to improve the lives of care-experienced children and young people.

In parliamentary debates on the care review, Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho promised to “start by laying the foundations for a system that’s built on love”. England has record numbers of children (over 82,000) currently in the care of the state.

The care review called for £2.6bn over four years to be invested in children’s social care and early help, but the government’s implementation strategy ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’ has only committed to £200m.

NYAS supports the government decision to protect monitoring roles in homes to keep children safe.

The Regulation 44 role is when an independent person visits a children’s residential home once a month and makes sure that children and young people are being kept safe where they live.

The care review had proposed the scrapping of Regulation 44 visitors without robust evidence to support their recommendation.

NYAS campaigned against this and is delighted that the government has decided to protect the role of Regulation 44 visitors. Instead, the government will be reviewing and strengthening how these roles operate through wider reviews of the standards of care.

Regulation 44 was brought into force because of the Rochdale scandal, in which girls as young as 13 were victims of sexual exploitation between 2008 and 2010. It is a vital role and the flawed proposal by the care review has rightly been discarded.

The government will explore improving advocacy to strengthen children’s right.

Independent advocacy, having someone on the child’s side who empowers them to express their views and wishes, is at the heart of children’s rights. NYAS welcomes that the government has committed to working with the sector to implement an opt-out model of independent advocacy and will be consulting on this measure in autumn 2023.

This means that children in England who enter care, or at other key moments in their care journey, will automatically be connected with an independent advocate. This professional will explain what advocacy is and offer their services, helping to protect children’s rights and empower them to be listened to and taken seriously. NYAS has been calling for this alongside other charities through the Advocates4U campaign for several years. 

While NYAS welcomes that government will be seeking views and evidence on how best to implement an opt-out offer of advocacy, a revision of the National Advocacy Standards was already promised by government in 2020. The government must move faster to improve advocacy for children and young people.

You can read more about advocay and NYAS here.

The government has failed to meaningfully enable long term relationships for children in care and care leavers with Independent Visitors.

An Independent Visitor is a volunteer who spends time with a child or young person in care. For many children and young people, an Independent Visitor is the only adult in their lives who is not paid to spend time with them. NYAS’ research with Coram Voice found that a third of young people have not heard of Independent Visitors, despite their legal right to receive one.

The care review recommendation for local authorities to redesign their existing Independent Visitor schemes would have allowed for children in care and care leavers to enjoy long term relationships. This offered an opportunity for the government to be more ambitious for care leavers.

NYAS is pleased the government have committed to increasing the accessibility and take-up of the Independent Visitors offer by working with the sector to reinforce current good practice and developing standards for Independent Visitor services.

However, we think the government have missed an important opportunity to extend the offer of Independent Visitors to more young people. NYAS will be calling on the government to extend the entitlement to statutory Independent Visitor services up to the age of 25 in our consultation response.

’Care experience’ will not become a protected characteristic.

NYAS is disappointed that the recommendation to make ‘care experience’ a protected characteristic will not be taken forward due to significant concerns in the sector that “self-declaration of care experience could increase stigma”. NYAS’ research with Coram Voice found that 60% of children and young people thought it would be a good idea to make care experience a protected characteristic.

One young person said it would be a good idea to “teach others about care and children in care so other people get a better understanding of it.”

What happens next?

Despite the full government response, much remains undecided for the future of children’s social care. The government are collecting responses to its proposals to reform children’s social care, which will be open until 11th May 2023.

The government intends to deliver reforms in three key phases, with phase one of reform taking place from now to the end of the Spending Review period in March 2025. Later phases involve investment and legislation.

Government plans for urgent reform are not ambitious enough. The care review recommended a single five-year reform programme for the implementation of their recommendations, with an 18-month period between January 2023 and Royal Assent intended to focus on delivery of recommendations which do not require legislation.

The government commitment to bring forward legislation “when parliamentary time allows” is not the ambitious reform care-experienced children and young people were promised.

Calum Lucas, co-chair of NYAS’ Campaigns Advisory Group which is made up of care-experienced 18-25 year olds, said “I am remarkably proud that the government has listened to some of the things that people like us have been saying. For advocacy and safety in children’s homes, they have taken on board what we believe. These reforms must now lead to action that makes sure every care-experienced young person is treated with respect and dignity.”

NYAS is disappointed that the government guide for children and young people on reforms is not written in a way that younger children can understand. The readability age of the document shows it should be easily understood only by 15 to 16-year-olds. This means that children and young people will not be able to easily understand what is happening to their care.  

NYAS will continue to call for the principles and provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to be upheld. The government’s two-paragraph children’s rights impact assessment is inadequate and does not demonstrate how the proposed changes will impact children’s rights. The UK Government should build on the care review’s child’s rights impact assessment in the making of new legislation, which NYAS called for alongside over 150 children’s rights organisations.