This chapter offers an overview of the current difficulties and dilemmas within the English care system, particularly foster care and residential children’s homes. It explores the needs of children and young people in the care of the state and how to support empathic relationship building for children and young people in care, and leaving care. It will explore the key themes and ideas in respect of the care system currently, particularly those of the MacAlister Review, and analyse whether they are likely to provide the basis for an improved care system in the 2020s or not. It will consider where there are ongoing gaps and weaknesses in service provision and the kinds of policy and practice that might address these. It explores a central question – are the recommendations of the Review likely to have a positive impact on the lives and life chances of children and young people in care?
This chapter locates the MacAlister Review’s calls for a reset of the children’s social care system in England within the policy reform agenda of the last 25 years in the UK. It situates the MacAlister Review’s welcome emphasis on better supporting birth family care within a broader analytical framework grounded in Fox Harding’s analysis of values positions in child welfare and an adaptation of Stuart Hall’s notion of the ‘double shuffle’ in policy development. Drawing on insights from the chapters in this collection, it identifies the potential for the MacAlister Review to be used to move children’s services policy reform in contradictory value-orientated directions via a double shuffle. This would entail on the one hand an apparent move towards a greater family support orientation within the child welfare system undercut by further neoliberal-influenced state defunding of children’s services and/or greater deregulation and privatisation of the delivery of children’s services provision. The chapter concludes by arguing for the importance of dissent in future policy development in children’s services.
Influenced by an intersectional and decolonial frame, this chapter identifies significant issues connected to race and children’s services in England and the gaps in their coverage in the MacAlister Review Final Report. Key issues discussed are emergent data on the racialised disparities in children’s services responses to families, the adultification of unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people, and lessons from the case of ‘Child Q’ where a 15-year-old Black girl was strip-searched by the Metropolitan Police at her school in north London in 2020. The chapter concludes with suggestions as to how these issues can be better addressed within children’s services organisations and the social work profession.
Over the last decade there has been a series of Government policy initiatives in respect of children’s services and social work education in England, many of which aim to de-regulate or privatise aspects of these services. Critically considering the impact of the MacAlister Review, this book explores the past, present and future of children’s services in the UK from a range of perspectives – lived, professional and academic.
This accessible guide provides a timely and incisive overview of the current children’s services reform agenda in the UK. It identifies current challenges, analyses both strengths and weaknesses in the current policy agenda and sets out alternative policy and practice directions for a system that can meet families’ needs.
A parent’s perspective on the care system, drawn from direct experience. This chapter describes what happens within a child protection system that is full of fear and in thrall to risk. A system that begets controversy and adversarialism, and which too often damages rather than supports the relationships children need. Taking a critical view on labelling, language and stigma, the chapter details how the processes that are supposed to support children and families encourage a judgemental approach to assessment, minimising the needs of parents and leading to poorer outcomes, because better supported parents are better placed to meet their children’s needs. Offering positive examples of the power of parent advocacy, the chapter suggests the key to a better system is to primarily focus on relationships – within families and communities, and between workers, professionals, families and communities – and the key to this, in turn, is better support for everyone involved.
Adoption continues to be a contested construct and intervention. The chapter asks if adoption still has a role and, if so, what that role should be. The history of adoption is explored with a recognition that it has changed over time and differs across cultures. The discussion builds on the British Association of Social Workers’ Adoption Enquiry undertaken by Featherstone and colleagues in 2018, drawing on the author’s own experience as an adoptive parent and in fostering social work. The chapter recognises the powerful outcomes that can be achieved through adoption but concludes that it remains a contested and imperfect construct. There is call for further discussion and nuanced reform of adoption, drawing on its strengths and learning from legal permanence options in other cultures.
The announcement of the MacAlister Review was the catalyst for developing this collection of critical perspectives on children’s services reform. There had been high hopes for the fresh thinking and insights a genuinely independent review might bring to children’s services reform in England, and consensus that change was needed, though a divergence of views about what that change should be. There was subsequently concern at Josh MacAlister’s appointment as chair of a nominally independent review due to his prior close alignment with the UK Department for Education’s reform agenda since 2013, and his entwinement within a number of influential networks within children’s services policy development during the last decade. For a number of campaigners, such entwinement impugned not only the Review’s capacity to critically scrutinise and evaluate policy developments over the last decade, but its ability to foster broad-based consensus for its recommendations. This chapter introduces the range of diverse viewpoints contained in the collection with regards to children’s services reform, setting out why it is crucial that any review of children’s services must capture and harness such diversity as well as the tensions within and between viewpoints.
Kinship care is when children remain within their family constellation if they cannot remain with their primary carers, usually birth parents. The use of kinship care is highly relevant to current child welfare discussions in social work and social policy, especially as the MacAlister Review emphasises ‘growing’ it as a child care option. However, there must be caution as kinship care can be exploited to alleviate strained statutory budgets. Also, proposed policy changes are often drawn from assumptions, unsubstantiated claims and unresolved debates. The chapter critically examines these using current legislation, policy and research. It concludes by recommending we start to view kinship care as its own complex family arrangement that intersects between private family life, statutory intervention, resources, and inter-familial and extra-familial risk. To progress past the challenges of kinship care and benefit from opportunities, kinship care policy and practice must be tethered to robust evidence, not assumptions.
The network of individuals and organisations that dominate policy decision-making in children’s social care has received increasing attention in recent years. A central focus of this analysis has been on how this insular network perpetuates the same ideas and solutions, without allowing them to be subject to any significant challenge or scrutiny. This chapter adds to that growing body of literature with a specific focus on how ‘memes’, or pieces of cultural information, are used to facilitate this proliferation of ideas. The chapter starts with an introduction to some relevant theory in the area of networks, and an introduction to the work already undertaken around the policy network in children’s social care. This leads onto a discussion about the way that network ideology, and even perhaps culture, proliferates and reinforces specific ideas and perspectives. The rest of the chapter is devoted to analysing examples of prominent memes in children’s social care, starting with two that have been around for quite some time: ‘reclaiming social work’ and ‘high-quality’. The chapter then turns to looking at the more recent MacAlister Review, and specifically the memes surrounding the review, such as ‘safe and stable’. The chapter concludes by considering how the use of memes sits within a wider understanding of how networks operate, highlighting that this analysis should not detract from documented examples of purposeful collusion.
Revisiting their seminal text with Sue White and Kate Morris, Protecting Children: A Social Model, the authors extend and critically examine their core arguments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and arrive at sobering conclusions regarding what the pandemic revealed about the state, its responses and the deepening of patterns of power, wealth, inequality and exploitation in our society. The social model rebuts the highly individualising narratives of responsibility and causation and locates developments in child protection within a broader economic and societal canvas. The pandemic has reinforced the core arguments behind this viewpoint while revealing limitations in the authors’ original thinking, especially around the potential of the state in the context of financialised capitalism: the relationship between the state and private businesses has become even more intimate as the ideological veneer of competition and the market for contracts has been abandoned and the state is refashioning itself as chief enabler of private capital and private power. The chapter points to the proliferation of suggested alternative approaches and ultimately holds out hope for a better future founded in new and emerging possibilities for dialogue.