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The Care Review

Five Rivers’ CEO & Founder, Pam McConnell, outlines her response to the Care Review.

Branded a “once in a generation opportunity”, I felt an imperative to respond to the Care Review. Alongside this response, I have also written to the Chair, Josh MacAlister, and we are doing what we can to support the organisations coming together to respond to the gaps in the early administration of this review so far.  


Supporting families to stay together 

Supporting families to stay together is, of course, an important goal but not at any cost. The threshold to protect children remains too high in parts of the UK, causing profound and lasting trauma which add to the mounting pressures on our services when they are brought into our care. I see the impact of this as we are faced with an ever-increasing degree of complexity and entrenched trauma from children who have been left in neglectful and abusive environments for too long. This has to stop, our first and only priority should be ensuring children are safe and loved. 


Future focus 

The care ‘system’ is laced with complexity and divisions. The mounting pressures on the sector lead to short-term, quick-fix solutions which are not in the best interest of the children and young people who need rounded therapeutic support. This serves to re-traumatise children and has later impacts on social care services as those, then adults, need ongoing support. Our challenge is balancing the great bodies of evidence that support preventative early intervention, against the consequences when not enough is done, to make sure our support is timely and effective in helping hurt children turn into able adults.  


Cliff edge of care 

The cliff edge of care is an on-going challenge, the transition plans do not go far enough and time after time children are launched into adult society at a point where they have a real vulnerability. I would not expect the resilience and independence they are forced to have, so young, in our ‘birth‘ children. The lack of support at this crucial point compounds many issues these children face. Those that do try to support young people are then castigated for there not being regulated services and yet is it better to have services from trusted providers or to leave them to potentially unscrupulous landlords? Part of our social value commitment to ensure services do not stop at 18 is our Five Rivers futures care leavers’ support scheme.  


The complex system 

The care sector is a tangle of different departments. Non-relating lines of management, sometimes competing for the same resources, add to the barriers to working well together and being efficient. The excellent work on removing barriers between health and social care could be applied to the principles of children’s services. Until the children’s services system is depoliticised by making planning phases longer than election cycles and removing the glory from separate services at the expense of others, we will be unable to take a holistic view of the very real needs of these children. Let this review lead the way in this regard. 


Entrenching stigma 

The headline-catching rhetoric, the suggestion being that it is acceptable to chase eyeballs by creating misleading attention-getting information, further casts a negative societal view on the people who work in and grow up in the care system. This has profound consequences; making finding the right people to do one of the most important jobs even more difficult and worse, further marginalising the children who need us to advocate for them most and stand up for their rights and achievements. I fear we will see another generation of looked after children being severely disadvantaged with the review being positioned as it is, to confirm a set of beliefs rather than open the debate.  


Enterprising solutions  

Just as the review’s communications land as generalised soundbites about children and care leavers, it also clumsily refers to “private providers”. Five Rivers is a committed social enterprise, run by child care professionals, social workers, psychotherapists; not by private business interests. I believe passionately that all social enterprises should be considered alongside third sector and public sector services. There’s little recognition of those providers with a social value commitment at their heart. 


“Once in a generation opportunity” 

The review being positioned in this way shines a spotlight on the administrative gaps that have grown over years, and with this, so as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, there is a need to slow down sufficiently to be able to include those in care and those who are care experienced and to be inclusive of those who may find taking part uncomfortable. We can structure a regional focus to consider those and other voices properly to co-devise and co-produce an affordable service with clarity of purpose and integrity in its delivery that protects children now and in the future to give them the life chances they deserve.  


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