With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement on how the government is responding to the report of the Independent Review of Social Assistance to Children and the Office of Competition and Markets (CMA) on Social Protection of Children.
This government believes in a country where all children are given equal chances to realize their potential, but unfortunately we are not there yet. It is for this reason that we have committed ourselves with the manifesto to launch the Independent Review of Social Assistance to Children in March 2021, which was published today.
It was commissioned to take a fundamental look at the child welfare system and understand how we need to transform it to better support the most vulnerable children and families.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Josh McAllister and his team for this comprehensive review, as well as to the children, the Expert Advisory Board and Alumni of Guardianship, families and caregivers who shared their experiences of the current system and aspirations for a future one.
The review is solid and extensive, requiring a system reboot so that it acts decisively in response to abuse; provides great assistance to families in crisis; and provides those in care with love relationships and homes for life.
I look forward to working with the sector, with first-hand experience, and with colleagues from all sides of the House of Representatives to report on the ambitious and detailed government response and implementation strategy to be published by the end of 2022.
To get to us, I have three main priorities:
- The first is to improve the child protection system so that it protects children from harm as effectively as possible.
- Second, support families to take care of their children so that they have a safe, loving and happy childhood that has prepared them for a full life.
- And, thirdly, ensure the proper placement of children in the right places so that those who cannot stay with their parents grow up in a safe, stable and loving home.
So that I can respond effectively and without delay, I will create a National Implementation Council of people with experience in leading transformational change to challenge the system to fully achieve our ambitions for children. The board will also consist of people with their own experience using the help system to remind us of the promise of delivery and the cost of delay.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say bluntly: too many vulnerable children have failed the system. We cannot rise to the level if we cannot make progress in the reform of social assistance to children. But we are working to change that, and our work to improve children’s life chances is already underway in line with the key themes of the CMA Review and Report.
April 2 we supported Family support The program is worth £ 695 million, which will mean that the 300,000 most vulnerable families will receive support to provide the safe and loving homes their children need to thrive. We welcome the recognition by the Review of this program as an excellent model of family intervention.
And today, with a review as our roadmap, we go further:
We will work with the sector to develop a National Social Assistance System for Children, which will set the exact direction for the system and point out to everyone the best available evidence of how to support children and families. We’ll talk more later this year.
I want to pay tribute to every social worker who strives every day to help children and families who are changing their lives. Ensuring greater protection for children depends on the knowledge and skills of these social workers, so I support the principle of the proposed Early Career Review. We will outline robust plans to redirect the support that social workers receive at the earliest stage – with a special focus on child protection, given the complex nature of this work.
We will also take steps to advance the three priority areas of data review and digital resources, ensuring that local governments and partners are at the heart of the reform. In line with the review’s recommendations for the Data and Technology Working Group, we will introduce a new fund of digital and data solutions to help local authorities improve delivery for children and families through technology. More information on pooling data from across the public sector will be available later this year so that we can increase transparency, both between defense partners and the general public.
And, recognizing the need to take measures to ensure adequacy of accommodation, we will give priority to working with local authorities to recruit more foster carers. This will include local recruitment campaigns being built under the national program to help children access the right place at the right time. As recommended by the review, we will focus on providing additional support throughout the application process to improve the conversion rate from expressions of interest to approved foster carers.
My overriding priority is to bring change to vulnerable children, and as the review shows, I will return to this chamber on the anniversary of its publication to inform colleagues of the progress made.
Mr. Speaker, this statement also provides an opportunity to welcome the recommendations set out in the report of the Office of Competition and Markets on the Social Welfare Market for Children, published in March. As an initial response, I asked my department to conduct a thorough study of the workforce of orphanages, working with the sector and experts to improve market surveillance.
Unfortunately, we know that too many children are still not quickly protected from harm. This is unacceptable. On Thursday, the Child Protection Practices Review Panel will present lessons learned from the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the Secretary of State for Education will arrive at the House to outline the government’s initial response to these tragic events.
Mr. Speaker, for too long social assistance to children has not been given the attention it so desperately needs and deserves. I am determined to work with colleagues across the House of Representatives and local authorities across the country to reform the generation once and for the system to provide quality care at the right time with tangible results.
For every child who needs our protection, we need to reform this system.
For every family that needs our help and support, we need to reform this system.
For every child or young person in care who deserves a safe, stable and loving home, we need to reform this system.
It is a moral imperative and we must all accept this challenge.
I applaud this statement to the House of Representatives.