What is the care review and what are some people saying about it?
Updated: Jun 23
Over on Twitter, a few of the people I know that have lived in the care system growing up are talking about the 'Independent care review' which is already underway.
According to the UK governments own website 'a wholesale independent review of children’s social care will set out to radically reform the system'.
The review itself was launched by education secretary Gavin Williamson, and led by Josh MacAlister - former chief executive of a social work fast-tracking training provider that a lot of people have been talking about, called 'Frontline'.
However, from what I've seen on my Twitter feed, not everyone seems to agree that the review will lead to better outcomes for children and families. So what's going on?
For some of us, social media can be a lot to keep up with. So I reached out to a few people to help me understand more about the care review - and why so many people seemed to be concerned about the way that it's being managed.
Firstly, I spoke with Amanda Knowles, a qualified social worker and manager of children's services to see what she had to say about the care review.
Ben - Hi Amanda, thanks for agreeing to do this interview and taking the time to talk with me. Amanda - You're very welcome.
Ben - First question. The review has been launched by education secretary Gavin Williamson, and he's appointed Josh MacAlister to lead the review.
How does it impact the review and the future of the care system?
Amanda - I think there's a danger that it will limit the scope of the review. He's (JM) already made it clear that the review will not look at past events.
Ben - Such as? Amanda - Past experiences, historical experiences in the care system. He's been very clear about that.
Ben - Ok, thanks.
Amanda - Also, the 'experts by experience' panel have also said that this isn't about looking back, it's about looking forward.
My thought's on that are it's a bit like saying that the holocaust happened but that we've got nothing to learn from it. Ben - Totally. Amanda - That really bothers me. It's also a bit like the Black Lives Matter stuff, let's forget any of that stuff happened and let's just move on, and of course people can't just move on.
I do think the atrocities that have gone on in the care system that have affected looked-after young people also affect those that have cared for them.
People such as myself have a perspective on what was happening to young people in care and I believe it's useful to share that with those that grew up in that system.
So bringing those two perspectives together is really important, because it makes the story more complete. We can talk about childhood events and look at them through an adult lens, and that's really useful to avoid misunderstanding and things like that.
Ben - Thanks Amanda. Good answer that was. Is there anything else on that you'd like to add before I fire off the next question? Amanda - Yeah, can I just say the danger is - unless we know what went wrong we can't know what needs to be fixed. Ben - Bang on that is Amanda. We're just ignoring it all still then aren't we.
Amanda - Yep.
Ben - Well onto the next question then Amanda.
There's been a few people on Twitter saying that Josh MacAlister doesn't have enough experience to be leading the review and are calling for him to step down and let someone more suitable take the lead. Do you think that he could step down from leading the review, but still provide valuable input into the educational sector such as schools and colleges? Amanda - I just want to say, my blog wasn't an attempt to pressurise Josh MacAlister or anybody else to step down.
Of course, Josh does have a contribution to make with his teacher and social work training perspective. We all have.
Ben - Ok cool.
Amanda - For me this was an opportunity to have a collective conversation, bringing all of those different perspectives into it. I've long thought we needed a national conversation about what it means to be parents to children in our society whoever's doing the parenting. That can be from birth parents to people like myself that have looked after other people's children over a lifetime.
This care review was an opportunity to do that, and to debate really. But I'm not convinced that this review is about listening.
Ben - OK, thanks. Well on the flip-side of that, how do you think this will all impact the review? Amanda - I'm concerned that the danger is that the review will be used to progress an agenda that's been there for a very long time.
I started in children's social care in the mid-seventies, and even back then people were pushing for less children's homes and reform. I didn't think I'd still even be in this job for five minutes before it was gone, but here I am forty-five years later and I'm still in it.
But there seems to be this belief that private sector is best, and it feels like certain people have been put in key positions. This hasn't all of a sudden come about over the last few weeks or months, but it's something that's been happening over many years.
Ben - So would you say this review has a sort of 'friends with contracts' and backscratching sort of vibe about it?
Amanda - I think the world's been given a new word recently hasn't it - Chumocrisy .
Ben - Ah that's a good one that is. Amanda - Well there's a lot of information in my blog Ben. There's a lot of evidence of people being connected, a lot of manoeuvring going on behind the scenes. It feels like a game of chess.
Ben - Is there any dates people should keep in mind so they can keep up to speed with what what's happening with the review? Amanda - Well the review ends in March next year. It's a 12 month review which is a really short time. Ben - It really is isn't it. Amanda - People can also keep up to date by listening out from what's being said from the care review panel, and check out their updates and workshops. Ben - Thanks for that Amanda. Well thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions, it's been really useful for people such as myself to get a bit more perspective on it all.
I'll leave it at that for now, thanks for your time.
You can read Amanda Knowles's blog on the care review at : https://memoirsofacaregiver.com/if-only
Next, I spoke with Donna Peach, a lecturer at the University of Salford. She's worked in children's social care since the mid-eighties, so I was grateful to hear what she had to say about it all.
Ben - Hi Donna, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with me.
Donna - Hey, no worries. Thanks for doing it.
Ben - Nice one! Well I'm going to fire off now with what is a massive question. But what are your thoughts about the review, how it's been managed at the moment and how it will impact young people in care and families?
Donna - Well I think the title of it being the 'Independent care review' is misleading. Those that have looked into the contract have shown that it's not independent.
I think my next worry is that it isn't really a sincere review of care.
Ben - What do you mean when you say that you don't think it will be a sincere review? Could you elaborate on that a bit more for us?
Donna - Well, my solidarity in regards to all of this comes from wanting to support the people that I've known for a long time in the 'care' community that are discussing this. A lot of those people's reaction was to feel kind of crushed by how they perceived the process.
Since then, I can't see anything that takes away those concerns and those people feeling crushed.
Some people on Twitter say that the review isn't perfect, but that this is what we've got. But there's something about not short-changing people such as yourself Ben that have lived it.
I find it deeply disrespectful to the care community, and that's no place to start a journey together, is it?
Ben - Totally agree with you there Donna.
Donna - To me the red flag was choosing MacAlister, because of how he's connected with the government. If they simply had the respect of choosing somebody that was truly independent, none of us would even be having this conversation. I feel like the pretence of engagement, and respect of involvement, has been been undercut right from the start of this process.
Ben - So with the care review only being set to last around a year, how do you think that will impact the care review? Donna - Well I did read somewhere in the contract that there was the potential for an extension for twelve months, but at the minute they are looking at thirteen months.
In June, the Secretary of state has to hand over his information to the office of budget responsibility for the autumn spending review, so they need initial findings. Given that we're already in the end March, how are they going to get the panels in place and collate findings that will impact on spending decisions and do it all in such a small space of time?
Having written reports, and done evaluations and reviews on a much smaller scale, I know that these things take a lot of time.
Ya know, even just the final editing of something coming together, the report going backwards and forwards whilst ministers and others write in their bit. I think you could easily knock of three months on the final drafting and re-drafting of the report, so even that shortens the time for review, analysis and discussion.
It seems a wholly unreasonable timescale to me, and that's why I referred to the lack of sincerity about what is really being reviewed and examined.
When I looked online at the terms of reference for the care experienced board, it says on there that they are only meeting about once every two months. Ben - Really? That sounds insane. That's literally just a few meetings before the review is completely concluded. I think I'm beginning to see people's frustrations on Twitter a little more now. I'm kinda shocked!
Donna - Even if they're meeting for a half a day and they've got reading to do beforehand, that's a really short amount of time to be examining evidence and having decent discussions about a wide range of complex issues.
It worries me that it will be perceived by those organising this system as a sort of, almost, rubber-stamping exercise and I think the people attending have higher expectations about their involvement.
Ben - Hope you don't mind me interjecting here for a second, but despite most of the care-experienced people that I know on Twitter being sent the 'thanks, but no thanks' email replies, I did spot one person on my Twitter that was accepted, and I can understand that whilst being included that they'd want to have some sort of faith about it. I probably would if it was me.
Donna - Of course. But the panel will possibly only meet twice before the OBR (Office for budget responsibility) deadline in June. So they could have only met once or twice before those first initial findings go through.
Here's something else also, but I'm not sure if you already know but the professional experts panel is dictated by the secretary of state for education, not by MacAlister, not by the chair. So anyone that sits on that panel has to be approved by Gavin Williamson. Ben - That totally sounds like the government had already decided who they wanted to hear from before they'd even started. I'm trying to keep my emotions balanced for this interview, but it's hard not to feel so strongly opinionated about it all Donna.
Donna - He actually details who he wants on it, financiers and others that he wants on the panel. He's not saying that he wants people that understand care and that focus, it seems to be purely about expenditure.
Ben - Thanks Donna, that leads us perfectly into my next question. How much impact do you think the large corporations and private equity companies have on the lives of children in care and the system.
Donna - Well, the answer is, I don't know. One of the worries is that things aren't transparent. It's hard to see where the boundaries are now between who is public, and who is private.
I think it comes down to trust. If everyone involves was honest and transparent then you'd have collaboration, but it feels like you have all of these layers of corporations. Why does the focus seem to be on leadership and not retention in service?
If we want social workers, then we want that continuity of relationship with community and with families, so why does the focus seem to be who is at the top instead of what is happening on ground level.
As social workers, we're not going to understand some of the language and terms used by those at the top making decisions because we're not encouraged to have those sort of conversations, and I think it's partly because we're trying to survive.
Social work has got a lot of things wrong it and there's a lot of stuff that we should absolutely be doing differently. In an ideal world we wouldn't exist and people wouldn't need that sort of intervention in that way, but I think we're still a profession that could stand up to government, for social justice.
Ben - Well I think it's time to wrap-up the interview now Donna. Thanks a lot for your input here and I look forward to hopefully speaking with you again sometime. Look after yourself.
Donna - Thanks Ben. You too, keep up the good work. Bye-bye.
You can find out more by watching Donna Peach's videos on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtQ3jCfnT5x6javBDl_0nrA
Next I spoke with Christian Kerr, a social worker and social work lecturer in Northumberland. He's also the chair of the North-East branch of the British Association of Social Workers.
Christian has set up a Twitter account @CareReviewWatch , so I decided to see if I could get him to tell us more. Thankfully I managed to get hold of him for an interview.
Ben - Hi Christian, thanks for sparing the time to do this interview with me to help more people like myself understand more about the care review.
Christian - Aye, no problem Ben. I like your idea of filtering through the information and presenting it in a way that's easily accessible.
Ben - Ah thanks that means a lot. Mate, do you know who I think you sound a bit like?
Christian - Go on..... Ben - Ross Noble. He's from up your neck of the woods isn't he? Christian - He's a Northumberland lad aye. He went to the same school as me too, long after my time mind.
Ben - I must have picked up on something then. Anyway, accents aside - You manage a Twitter account called 'Children's Care Review Watch' is that right?
Christian - Yeah. Well I set it up a Twitter account simply called 'Care Review Watch' to post commentary and information that was coming out about the care review. My intentions were to retweet what people were saying, and avoid making any comment on it myself to avoid any bias on the account. I comment on the care review and other matters as myself at @SWConcern, but the point of setting up the Care Review Watch page was to make the information coming out easily discoverable for others that follow it.
Even though I don't comment myself on the stuff I repost there, it seems that a lot of the people commenting on the retweets seem to be fairly critical of the review and I'm aware of that.
To be honest, it probably reflects my own scepticism. For example, I deliberately don't call it the 'Independent Care Review Watch'.
Ben - So what inspired you to set up the Care Review Watch account then? Christian - I've long looked at and written about the reform of social care and social work, and I've been interested in this idea that there are a select group of individuals and organisations that seem to have a lot of influence over the direction of travel for social work. I work with adults mainly, but my interest in reform is more skewed towards children's social care and social work reform because that's where it's most acutely apparent.
In my work I see people a lot that have been through the care system, and I see the results of that of how that plays out in their later lives. These things have a life-long impact, not all bad but it marks you and forms who you are.
Ben - Yeah, I can definitely associate with that. I've noticed a lot of people on my Twitter that grew up in care aren't happy about Josh MacAlister leading the review. What are your thoughts on that? Christian - Well the announcement of the review to be headed up by Josh MacAlister, I think is fair to say came as a bit of a shock to some people and has been the cause of a lot of concern as you know, with a lot of people talking about that very frequently on Twitter and elsewhere. That's what inspired me to do the page really, with the thinking of let's make a separate space for that where I'm not necessarily banging the same drum but collating information that might be useful to people that are interested.
It provides a focal point for some people I think.
Ben - Nice one. Good stuff that is.
What would you say some of the biggest things that you've learned whilst keeping your eye on this review. Is there anything important that you can share with anyone reading this? Christian - Well, the independence of the chair has been a big question from the start. For example, given that he was founder and CEO of 'Frontline' which is a social work training scheme, to date it's had somewhere in the region of seventy million pounds from the Department For Education which I think will have amounted to about eighty million pounds by 2022 and if it gets funded beyond that then it will continue.
He's always been very clear that he's passionately dedicated to this scheme, so I wrote a blog about his independence which questioned it when he has such an investment in Frontline.
OK, so even though he's stepped down from his position at Frontline to lead the review, it was in the contract that came out to the public recently that it confirms that there's nothing stopping him from going back to that role.
Ben - Ah OK. Well I can certainly see why a lot of people would question that at least.
Christian - Also, the point I was making with the blog was that we're all human and I don't expect him to be any different from anyone else. It seems from what I've seen that he has certain tendencies and predilections for particular types of social work and care which has been evidenced by his previous work.
Myself and others have questioned his bias and independence, so I think people should be aware of the reasons that people are talking about it, and I think the reasons are valid.
There's also been other people saying those reasons aren't valid and to give the review a chance, but we don't normally appoint people to quite important jobs on the basis of 'give us a chance' sort of thing. It doesn't really wash.
Ben - Well said Christian. Personally I think children in care deserve so much more, and those that have been through the system deserve to see a proper job being done.
Christian - Another thing I'll point out, is that the recent revelation of the leaked unredacted version of the contract has raised other questions about independence as well. It's raised questions about the process and the transparency of the review, such as the fact that Josh was appointed directly by the Department for education without any competition.
I've met Josh MacAlister, and I don't want to demonise him but I do have questions about his independence and his ability to conduct this review.
People are saying that it's a stitch up and a full gone conclusion, I don't have a strong view on that yet. I would probably tend towards thinking that there are people behind Josh that will want to achieve through this review, and that they'll use it as a means to get their own agendas through.
A lot of care experienced people have been very hurt by the process so far, and we need to be aware of the responsibility that the chair has for that.
Ben - Well you've sort of already answered what was going to be my next question. I was going to ask how you thought care-experienced people felt in general about this. Have you got any more thoughts about that? Christian - It's a difficult one, because I think there's been a lot of division. On one side of the debate you've got some very pragmatic people with all the best will in the world and passionate commitment for wanting a better deal for children in care.
That includes care experienced people and also parents that have come into contact with the system as well. I don't doubt their passion and commitment to that and people supporting the review on that basis.
I'm in touch with some of those people and I don't blame them for how they feel about that, but on the other hand I'm also aware of quite a lot of people that feel very differently about the review. I can see a lot of division and a lot of hurt on either side.
on one side there's people saying that this is the chance we have and that we should use it, but on the other hand there's equally valid concerns about the way it's being ran and if they will actually listen to the voices of the care experienced people or not.
Ben - Well I won't keep you too long mate, you've provided myself and others reading this some really valuable and questionable insight, so thanks for that.
Christian - Aye no problem Ben. Thanks for having us.
You can follow 'Care Review Watch' at https://twitter.com/CareReviewWatch
You can also read his blog on the care review at https://socialwhatnow.medium.com/the-care-review-a-foregone-conclusion-8c40ab8b6f9d
After recording the above three interviews, the last thing I wanted was for this article to only show one side of the story. Sure, my own personal Twitter feed was far outweighed by those concerned about the structure of the care review - but I was also aware of a small number of others that seemed to have faith in the review and wanted it to push on.
One of those people was Joe Caluori, head of Research and Policy at Crest Advisory, a criminal justice think-tank organisation that specialises in numerous social and community issues including county lines.
Ben - Hi Joe, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. So far I've interviewed three other people - all with strong opinions and concerns about the care review. I know that you are one of the people that seem to want it to push on, so it's great to be able to get another sort of perspective on things.
Joe - Hey no worries, I'm quite interested in hearing what you're going to ask.
Ben - Cool. From what I gather, it seems that you're for the review going ahead in it's current format. We'll go over that a little later, but I wanted to ask will Crest Advisory be contributing to the review at all? Have they been asked to?
Joe - Well I want us to contribute. We did a big report last year into looked-after children and county lines, and that showed us some really worrying failings into how the market for placements for looked-after children is working and how it's increasing the risk of exploitation. So yeah, I think we will put in a submission.
Ben - Do you have confidence that what you'll submit will be listened to and taken into account?
Joe - Yeah I've got confidence that we'll be listened to, whether or not what I say is acted upon is another matter. That's for the politicians to decide down the road.
In terms of the competition markets authority, my submission would be presenting the failings of the market at the moment, as seen through the evidence of our research so it won't be my opinion per say, but evidence we think would be of interest.
Ben - Some of the other people I've interviewed have pointed out the short timeframe of thirteen months. I've got to be honest, that worries me a bit. What are your thoughts on the timeframe?
Joe - The timeframe doesn't bother me to be honest, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think a lot of the biggest failings with the care system are a known. Compiling the evidence to have a evidential basis for it is very important but I don't think that it'll be complicated. For me the most complicated part of it is the structure of the accommodation market place and the economics of it. If the Competitions and Markets Authority haven't finished their investigation in the thirteen months then the review can't report and will have to be extended.
The second thing I feel about the timeframe is, is that this is quite an urgent issue that needs urgent change. You could do the review for three years, you could do it for five years, seven years. But every year that passes will be another group of children entering care with a broken care system and I wonder what more we'll learn after two years that we won't have learned after thirteen months.
I feel that there's urgent change for reform and the changes that will come will be so difficult to implement when it comes to fundamentally changing the market for accommodation. Personally, I'd rather like to make a start quicker.
Ben - What do you think some of those fundamental changes should be?
Joe - There will be lots of things. For me, with my experience and the evidence that I've got as a researcher there are two things that I'm most worried about. Firstly, the use of distant placements and residential settings, and unregulated care.
My major feeling is that the care market with all the private providers isn't providing accommodation of a suitable quality near to the home area where those children are from. Where they have access to their protective networks, their friends, health, they don't have to change school or college. For me that's one thing that the market can't deliver , so that will take intervention from government on a national and local level. It will also require a lot of funding and either taking over existing private organisations or setting up new ones, which will be really difficult.
And the second thing, is a real debate about adolescents coming into care.
From my position in Islington, looking at children who come into care later in life in their later teenage years, they don't have the beneficial experience of care that is available, so their experience of care is very different. Like, it's very different if you come into care at the age of six or seven and have spent your life in foster care than if you come into care at the age of sixteen, seventeen because of a breakdown with your parents or homelessness.
Those are two very different situations, and I don't think the current system is fit for purpose with most older children coming into care. It's silly to treat them as part of the same cohort because they're just not. They need a time-limited intervention to safety get them to adulthood and independence, and at the moment no-one is delivering that.
For me those are the two big things that need to come out of the review.
Ben - I agree with a lot you've just said there Joe. I hope it gets acknowledged. It's also been interesting to get another angle on this and interview someone that's saying that they want to crack on with the review. For a more balanced read if anything.
Joe - Well, in saying that Ben, I do understand why people have other views. Especially people who've have bad personal experiences of care because there will be a feeling, I think, from a lot of people that they want the review to honour and understand the negative experiences they've had.
It's a very powerful and motivating drive that I can understand. I can't imagine it, but I can understand that people who feel that way want a commission that more closely reflects that they imagine.
For me, I come at it from the point of view of a former politician and a current researcher of systems and my objective is to take a look at where the evidence leads you and create change as quickly as possible. So I understand much of what is being said is in good-faith arguments but I feel that this is the care review that we have, and there won't be another one, so we just have to get on with it.
Ben - I've heard the word 'Chumocracy' a few times now, it's becoming quite a well-known word. What do you think that in regards to the review?
Joe - It's interesting isn't it, I suppose if there was a pre-set blueprint for the review and then at the end of the review the findings reflected that blueprint and nothing had changed after the evidence, then you could fairly say it wasn't a good process and is a reasonable point to make. It isn't a problem for me that Josh MacAlister might of in the past written a paper about a blueprint for social care, even if I didn't agree with it or what's in it.
Lots of people at national level in this sector know each other, go to the same events , sit on the same boards and might know each other personally. That's the same in any sector. It will always be the case that we have networks of people that know each other well, and if you get a cork board out and draw lines between them you can make it look like a conspiracy - but people knowing each other doesn't imply that unless there's definite reason to suspect it. If those sorts of things did happen without due process then that would be appalling and you'd be right to scrutinise it. I don't think people should presume it would happen though, but I agree that it's an important thing for people to look out for.
Ben - I think some care-leavers such as myself are worried that the main core avenues of the review will be overshadowed by the appeal of business links, corporate interests. lucrative contracts and the like . It's easy for a lot of us to feel that children in care are someone's career path, holidays, mortgage and business fund.
I think those feelings have also affected people's faith in the care review. Saying that, I'm going from my own personal feelings and from what I'm seeing on social media. I'm not sure as yet how big the division is between those that have faith in the review and those that don't. But it seems many feel somewhat let down. Obviously I'm not connected with everyone as yet and there are various perspectives.
Joe - Yeah it's interesting what you're saying about social media. I picked up on a lot of criticism on my social media feed and I was pretty critical of the review myself at the beginning.
It's hard to to tell whether that reflects mainstream opinion or whether people of that mind naturally form networks because they are interested about the same things. I think the problem we have about children in care and the system is that the vast majority of the population in the country don't understand it. They don't know what it is, they don't care and the only interactions they often have with the care system is if they're upset about a children's home being set up near them and they are protesting the planning applications. It's quite a depressing situation.
Ben - You're absolutely bang on there Joe, I even wrote a poem about similar situations with a children's home and neighbours in 'Welcome To Leatheton' . I'll have to show you it you.
Joe - Thanks Ben, I love a poem. In regards to what you said before that, from my point of view you've got this dedicated community that have really strong views about the review, and that's great, but then you have the general public.
In order to get the government to change their spending priorities and allocate money that is needed you need to win the general public over. We need to take these discussions out of Twitter and out into the real world, and one thing we can try and do with this review is use it to start a conversation about that.
What do people really want out of our care system? And what responsibility do the community take for children in care? Let alone the politicians and the other agencies of the state. It's so depressing whenever the issue of looked after children or care leavers comes up in conversations I've had with many people outside of this realm of knowledge, because most people have no idea. No idea.
Ben - Well deep. I totally feel that.
Having ran out of time I think you've ended the interview on a great note there. I certainly hope that more bridges can be built between children in care, care leavers and the general public. I completely needs to happen.
Joe - Can I just say, I want to make it clear that I'm not a cheerleader or anything for the review, I just want them to push on with it so that we don't spend all of the time arguing about it.
Ben - Fair enough. I think you've put that loud and clear mate. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and raising some great points about public perspective. Keep up the good work and take care.
Joe - You as well. Take care.
After wrapping up my interviews with Amanda Knowles, Donna Peach, Christian Kerr and Joe Caluori, it became more apparent to me just how many different angles and experiences there is to reviewing life in care and the transition to and through adulthood. Here's to hoping that children in care and care leavers will see wholesome and decent changes to the way care is provided in the UK now. Whether that will take more people to keep raising their voices and speaking out to make it happen is as yet to be seen.
Here's to also hoping that no shortcuts are taken with this review, and that we aren't left with a 'one size fits all' shoddy stencil of care providing.
One thing is for sure though, there are many people keeping a close eye on the workings of this review and lets hope they all keep speaking out to share their perspectives.
A special thanks to Amanda, Donna, Christian and Joe for taking the time to let me ask them some questions to help myself and others further understand the care review and why people are talking about it.
You can find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/PoemsFaRunaway You can also find my book 'Poems From a Runaway' on Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Poems-runaway-story-Ben-Westwood/dp/1981314350