Your editorial on Josh MacAlister’s review of our children’s social care system (23 May) rightly underlines the importance of having services based within an “ethic of care” rather than shaped by a private market. Having worked for many years in local authority social services, I regard it as one of the great privileges of my life to have served on the committee stage of the landmark 1989 Children Act, not long after being elected to the Commons.
That legislation still underpins our care system and has at its heart the key principle of a child’s welfare being the paramount consideration in determining their wellbeing. It is utterly beyond me how that principle can be met when 83% of residential care provision is in the hands of private companies, whose central purpose is to make a profit.
I doubt that even the staunchest free market Conservative MPs back in 1989 could have envisaged the current acceptance of an average 22.6% private profits being made on the back of the needs of our most vulnerable children. To say that this country has gone markedly backwards since the passing of that legislation would be a gross understatement.
Labour MP for Wakefield, 1987-2005
• The parlous state of services for children looked after by the state in foster care or children’s homes is a perennial issue. Privatisation of services has been a major factor; every penny of the £500m-a-year profit highlighted in the MacAlister report has come directly from taxation (Overhaul of children’s social care in England urgent and unavoidable, review finds, 23 May). “Value for money” justifies cutbacks, but displaces the real reason for these services, which is that disadvantaged children have their needs met.
Surely value for money should be seen as better support for families to reduce the number of children looked after by the state, better matching of the needs of children removed from home to the care offered and, most importantly, much improved outcomes that will benefit the children concerned and society as a whole.
When I first managed children’s residential care in the 1980s, there was a focus on delivering programmes that helped residents return home or move on to a supported life outside care. As time passed, there was an increasing focus on cutting costs and being more efficient. I ignored the budget provision for food and clothing as “efficiency” was forced on us; this was based on fixed sums rather than needs at different ages. Policies and budgets met accountancy needs, not childcare needs.
The recommendations of Josh MacAlister’s report need to be fully implemented and protected by successive governments. Given previous performance, I do not hold out much hope.
Market Drayton, Shropshire
• Why bother making recommendations when they are seldom implemented? Josh MacAlister’s report sets out 80 recommendations to transform children’s social care. According to him, it will only take five years and £2.6bn to make things right for vulnerable children in England. His proposals are welcome, but unlikely to be put into action, like the hundreds of recommendations made in similar inquiries over the last 30 years, going back to Lord Clyde’s 194 recommendations at the Orkney inquest in 1992.
There is a pattern of successive governments not implementing the findings of costly inquiries or clawing back funding for them after they have been initiated. In a previous report MacAlister co-authored, A Blueprint for Children’s Social Care, recommendations were made to increase the time social workers could spend with children by 60%. The model would probably have worked, but it was never put in place. More children than ever are coming into care and more social workers than ever are leaving the profession.
Ripon, North Yorkshire
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