Children’s social care in Wales is in crisis. There are similar problems across the whole of the UK, yet while Scotland, England and Northern Ireland are having independent reviews to explore radical new ways of doing things, in Wales we do not seem to think that is needed.
I think it is – and here is why…
Children’s social care is full of people – social workers, foster carers, managers and other professionals – whose dedication to helping children and families is extraordinary. That passion keeps them doing the work even when pay and conditions, lack of support and press coverage combined with the challenges of protecting children in difficult circumstances make it one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.
The pressures on the system mean that there are huge problems in recruiting and retaining social workers, foster carers and others. A senior manager I spoke to recently said that their local authority has 40% vacancies – every authority I have spoken to has serious problems just ensuring there are enough staff.
There are strong grounds for thinking that these and other pressures contribute to a system that is not working. On the one hand we have horrific tragedies such as the death of Logan Mwangi, which suggest systemic failures.
On the other hand we have record numbers of children in care. Our rate in Wales used to be the same as England – it is now more than 70% higher. Wales now has the highest rate of children in care away from home in the UK and one of the highest in the whole world: 1% of all children are in care. Monmouthshire, where I live, has seen an increase of over 350% in the last 20 years. That is just extraordinary.
Yet the outcomes for children in care in Wales are poor and, crucially, have not been improving. They still get poor results at school, for instance, and very few seem to go to university.
Einstein said the definition of insanity was to “keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That is exactly what we keep doing in thinking about how to protect children.
An Independent Review for Wales would allow us think about how to do things differently.
It would allow us to place the voice of the children and families at the heart of its work.
It would allow us to hear new voices with innovative ideas.
It would allow us to look at how the system as a whole can move to focus on helping families and protecting children, not just social care.
I am not alone in thinking an Independent Review in Wales is needed. The British Association of Social Workers, the previous head of the National Safeguarding Board and almost every worker I have talked to agrees.
We cannot now save Logan Mwangi, and sadly it is impossible to be sure no child will ever die from abuse. But surely his death should motivate us to strive to do all we can to make sure services for children and families in Wales are the best they can be. To do that we need an Independent Review.
Blog by Professor Donald Forrester