North Yorkshire supports calls for national reset of children’s social care

This story was published 23 May 2022

A senior director is supporting proposals for a national reset in children’s social care after contributing to a hard-hitting report which calls for a radical rethink of the system.

Stuart Carlton

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has been published today (Monday, May 23.)

The national review, led by Josh MacAlister, looks at how the system responds to all children who are referred to it, from those receiving early help, to children in fulltime care. It looks at fostering, residential care, kinship care from wider family members and the situation faced by care leavers.

The Department for Education said the review would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle failures in the system.

Josh MacAlister’s report states there have been many attempts at reforming children’s social care since the 1989 Children Act. Although each has brought about incremental progress, it has resulted in a mass of legislation, systems, structures and services.

The report goes on to say the entire system now needs stronger foundations, stating: “The time is now gone for half measures, quick fixes or grandstanding.

“Changing the easiest bits, papering over the cracks, or only making the right noises, may in fact make matters worse.

“How we care for our children is nothing short of a reflection of our values as a country.”

It is a sentiment reiterated by Stuart Carlton, corporate director of children and young people’s services. He was part of the review’s design team who provided clarity with the issues which are currently facing the child social care system and helped build and propose alternatives.

He said: “The review looked for examples where alternative approaches to child social care issues were working, including in North Yorkshire.

“In many areas of child social care service, the county is already taking an alternative approach, leading the way in helping families find solutions.”

Initiatives in North Yorkshire which are already taking a fresh approach to child social care include:

  • Family Finding. This involves widening a family’s network around their child to keep them safe as soon as a family becomes involved with the children and families services. They are supported with skilled practitioners and services to identify, family members and other important people in the child’s life who can come together to ensure the child’s needs are being met and parents are supported. They then work with the family and child or young person to help them explore their life, what it feels like now and how they want it to look in the future. It centres around the core principle that children need to know they are loved and feel loved and explores those people among their family, friends or key attachments who could love the child or young person and help pull together a network around them.
  • Mockingbird. This initiative has now been running in North Yorkshire for three years and is based on the concept of peer support and creating an extended family for children and young people in the care system. It is an alternative method for delivering foster care with the potential to improve safety, stability and permanency for children and young people in local authority care and improve support for carers. The principles are to provide unconditional care, normalisation, community-based care, active child protection, birth family viewed as future support, cultural relevancy and identity and Foster Carer support. Fostering North Yorkshire have just launched its second “constellation”, enabling up to 20 foster carers and the children they care for to be a part of this community.
  • Lifelong Connections. This is an approach which seeks to help children and young people in care - and those living apart from their parents - to have a safe, lasting support network, helping them have a greater level of control and ongoing support in their lives. Support is also offered to adopted young people who may wish to be inked with key individuals in their lives. It supports those children and young people to identify people they would like a relationship with, using tools to help the young person to think about their life and who has been important, but also those they may not have previously known who they might want a relationship with. They will work with their lifelong connections coordinator look at how they can get in touch with the identified people and at how any introductions and meetings will take place. They will work together to ensure that this is done safely and at the young person’s pace. The service has been proven to build a stronger sense of identity and belonging, improve emotional wellbeing and provide stronger relationships in care and when young people leave care.
  • Family Group Conferences. A child-centred, family-focused approach which brings together family members and other people who are important to the child to support them to find their own solutions to the difficulties that are causing the family and professionals to worry. It is family-led and together with the referrer, they will agree what is causing concern. A facilitator will then make sure the views of the child and any other information is shared before leaving the family to have some private family time. It is during family time that they will together create a plan about what they will do that will help the family and address the worries and concerns. They will also look at what things they may need from others and the professionals to help make the plan work. The initiative supports families to plan and take control of their lives, clarifies everyone’s roles and responsibilities and makes sure everyone knows if there are any non-negotiables or bottoms lines that couldn’t be agreed.
  • The Restorative Academy offers a pioneering intervention when young people and families are in conflict either within the family home, school or community and also supports young people in the care system. Workers with the Restorative Academy have lived experience of being in care, or receiving intervention from a local authority themselves, which helps break down barriers and builds trust. The service is currently participating in a Parliamentary Report on how schools, fostering and children’s social care can work restoratively and their evidence will be presented to Parliament next month.
  • The aim of Fostering North Yorkshire is to achieve best outcomes, choice and stability for children/young people living in care through high quality fostering which will provide a range of family foster home arrangements from short breaks to permanence in which children can fulfil their potential.To ensure North Yorkshire can provide the range and type of foster homes required Fostering North Yorkshire has an overarching framework taking into account the skills, knowledge and development of new and experienced foster carers and which contains different levels of fostering from advanced and specialist foster carers, to No Wrong Door Residential Hubs and specialist short breaks.
  • Always Here. This initiative works to tackle the issues care leavers face, especially the “cliff edge” of care when they reach the age of 25 and councils are no longer obliged to remain in contact. Under North Yorkshire’s Always Here scheme, care leavers can stay in contact with their key workers for as long as they wish throughout their adult life. It has been used effectively in North Yorkshire for over a year and has enabled care leavers to share milestones in their lives such as weddings and the arrival of their own children, or to replicate the kind of support families would offer when adult children face challenges.

Many of these initiatives are in line with the new vision for children’s social care set out in the independent review, which calls for national changes such as a more decisive and focused child protection response, to proposals to unlock potentially wider networks of families and trusted adults to care for children.

The report states its proposals are rooted in the belief that society’s first task is to care for children, and that the children’s social care system must get alongside and strengthen the families and communities children grow up in, which provide them with a source of “love and belonging”.

It goes on to say: “It means unlocking the potential of wider family networks to care for children. When care is needed, it means providing loving relationships and homes that are healing.

“It means nurturing the foundations for a good life for the care experienced community - to be loved, excel in education, have a good home, have purposeful work and to be healthy.”