Feature: The Children’s Review 2022 – ‘We need a flexible system to enable effective change’

Paul Clark is a former children’s social worker, and current children’s social care lead at OLM Systems. In this feature, he considers whether the Children’s Review will provide a much-needed change within the children’s social care sector.

The Children’s Review will be of great importance to the country and the health and wellbeing of thousands of children every year. It is a review that will face greater scrutiny owing to the recent case of Arthur Hughes. The child who faced unimaginable torment, dying in the care of his father and stepmother has encapsulated the hearts and minds of the public.

In a similar vein to the pandemic and highlighting the shortfalls within health and social care, the death of Arthur Hughes will galvanise public opinion. Gaps in the case will be highlighted following a review, with the overarching Children’s Review offering a long-term plan to avoid this tragedy from happening again.

We are ten months into the review process with a planned delivery date of Spring 2022. It is around the corner and we need to be ready but will it go far enough? Will the Children’s Review provide the change that we are looking for?

At the start of 2022 you could be forgiven for wondering, what’s next?  With so many threads beginning to become unravelled, the world has presented a rather sobering appearance.  In the UK we are poised on the edge of a children’s review: a multi-year investigation into a system which is struggling to care for everyone.  The desire to change is obvious but who is most qualified to lead this investigation?

The case for change within children’s social care should be delivered by those at the heart of the system.  The mission statement taken from the Children’s Review website reads: ‘A once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the children’s social care system and provide children with loving, safe and stable families’,

The core desire for transformation is clear and offers a goal that we can all get behind. To provide ‘safe and stable families’ for children to grow up in and this is a core goal that can unite everyone working in the sector. The problems are clear and there is no running away from the scale of change that is required. 

The current state of children’s social care sees thousands of additional children floating around the system compared to a decade before.  It is clear that the system needs an injection of capital to plug the gaps, yet that will provide only short-term relief.  Continually supplying public services with short term cash injections is ultimately self-defeating. By doing so, you are merely prolonging problems that remain behind the scenes.

Spending on non-statutory services has reduced by 35% in real terms between 2012/13 and 2019/20, which has placed additional stresses on wider services such as: safe accommodation for victims of domestic abuse; mental health; and substance misuse services.

There is plenty of evidence that the focus seems to be placed on assessment and investigation rather than support: something that is the core focus of that which has been placed at the heart of the children’s review. The goal should be seen as supporting families throughout their lives to create loving network that support each other, rather than investigation to assign blame.

person sitting on bench


The inspection entity oversees local authorities in England. As of the end of 2021 the report gradings showcased a sector with nearly 50% of local authorities that were not meeting expectations. 

  • 19 Councils graded Outstanding
  • 57 Councils graded Good
  • 53 Councils were graded Requires Improvement
  • 19 Councils were graded Inadequate 
  • 4 Councils Not Yet Inspected

The question then emerges from these figures as to why? Why are expectations not being met? Is this due to the increased demand as indicated within the Children’s Review research? Is it due to a lack of funding, long term direction, or inadequate resources?

The answers are not straightforward and within such a complex sector, we never expect simplicity. Families are complicated, with webs of relationships surrounding them, each one offering a different perspective and therefore a bucket of funding will not address issues. Ofsted inspections have rated nearly half of the services across the country as either inadequate or requiring improvement. The reasons for this are wide ranging but there is one consideration that is clear… the voice of the child should always be at the heart of discussions.

Children at the heart of discussions

Social workers have caseloads which are more impressive than the average Fortune 500 portfolio. Social workers have only minutes each day to spend on their caseloads and whilst there are thousands of dedicated social workers across the country that do an amazing job, they are only human.

The delays are clear, and this is reinforced through the evidence collected by the Children’s Review and the Ofsted inspection ratings. This is of course one part of the puzzle and the children who are directly affected are the ones that suffer the most. Delays can leave them in unsuitable surroundings when what every child deserves is the right to grow up happy, in a fully supportive household.

To ensure that the voices of children are heard, the Children’s Review has created a panel of thirteen individuals, ranging from those who are in care, those who are care leavers and those who have adopted and fostered children, as well as parents who have been through recovery.

As the Children’s Social Care Lead and Solutions Specialist for OLM Systems it is my job to keep an eye on developments within the sector. It is something that I am passionate about. From my years spent as a Children’s Social Worker (working in Child protection and the Looked after Children’s teams) to today when I am embarking on a foster carer journey, I can honestly say that promoting positive outcomes for children and families is something that I am passionate about.

The Children’s Review is one of the most high-profile changes that has been promised over the last decade. It is a chance to create a system that cares for all.

After attending the virtual NCAS conference I was left disappointed. I expected more and the hesitancy to commit to a comprehensive review, which is needed, was a little disconcerting. It may be that they are tempering expectations with the use of ‘it will not be a home run’ type of paper and I understand that as you don’t want to make false promises, but I wanted more. We are 10 years on from the Munro report and the conversation in my opinion has not moved on far enough. I wanted the reassurance that we would not be here in another 10 years with history repeating itself.

The process for change

The review is not complete and whilst the paper will hopefully suggest long term improvements for the sector, there is worry.  The pandemic has shone a light on the sector and the public is in alignment.

Ofsted inspections will continue with the focus on achieving excellence as children are at the heart of any community. We therefore need to look at how we best support them, and this is something that will not be solved by any one consideration. Money and long-term funding are needed but confirmation on the timeframe that it will be available for, will provide stability. Short term bursts achieve nothing but only prolong the problem. Every aspect of children’s social care from recruitment to funding and the software that supports it needs to be considered.

A final thought

Change is urgently required within children’s social care. The Children’s Review has shared all the evidence needed to support this hypothesis and Ofsted inspections emphasise this statement.

We may have to wait another 10 years for another review of Children’s Social Care, so we need to get this right. We need it to have positive outcomes for children and families, we need it to support social workers to do the job they are desperately wanting to do and trained for.

My hope is that the Children’s Review will get to the heart of the problems and utilise the voices of children, families and professionals to effectively create a roadmap to change.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski


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