26th January 2022

Children’s Social Care – putting children’s voices at the heart of reform

Foreword by Dame Rachel de Souza DBE

This paper is dedicated to all the children in care who have spoken to me as Children’s Commissioner. These children have shared with me their experiences – good, bad and sometimes traumatic. Lots of the children and young people I meet are grateful for the love and support they have been given. But all too often they can be angry and frustrated about the challenges they face and the way they have been treated. These children in care have told me their thoughts and personal experiences in the hope that I can bring about change for the children who follow in their footsteps. And, I have been constantly impressed by the reflective and sanguine way children in care can discuss their experiences.

As Children’s Commissioner I want to put children’s voice at the heart of everything we do. I am motivated by all the children I have met and the stories they have shared. That is why, ‘The Big Ask’, my survey of nearly 600,000 children last year, offered children the opportunity to tell me their hopes, aspirations, and challenges. What was striking was that for children in care they were the same as all other children. They wanted to feel safe, stable, and loved; to maintain the vital relationships with friends and family; to be able to pursue their own interests and make plans for the future, and to be helped and supported when things go wrong. It is these essential elements of a good childhood which are too often missing for children in care and on the edges of it, and it is these fundamentals I want to focus on.

We have a unique opportunity now to change and reform the lives of children in care. With the Review of Children’s Social Care, the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Green Paper, the Schools’ White Paper and reforms to Integrated Care Services all taking place at the moment. This provides a unique opportunity to address these important issues ambitiously, cohesively and in a child-centred way. And my Office continues to contribute to all these ongoing pieces of work.

The case for change couldn’t be stronger – we are failing to give children loving, caring and stable homes; we are failing to get children into good schools which can support them, and we are failing to get children vital mental health care to help them recover from trauma. In some cases, as we have been reminded so tragically recently, we are failing to make the interventions that could save a child from trauma, serious harm and even death.

Quite simply, we can and must do better and I will be relentless in pushing for the changes we need to see. This paper focuses on the changes I believe are needed.

I do not pretend this is easy to get right every time, but when we are talking about the lives of children no failure rate is acceptable. We need to focus on the experience we want for every child and commit to building a system that can deliver it. We need to acknowledge that the system must do better and then commit to working together to get it to where we want to be. We must celebrate the good the great social care is doing across the country and use this as a foundation from which to build.

The Social Care Review can be the catalyst to bring about the bold and radical changes children want to see, but it will take all of us to make it a reality for all children within five years.