image of man reaching out to a young boy on a mountain

A care system that cares

On 15 January 2021, the Government announced an Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England.  This review has broad and ambitious terms of reference with the aim at looking how to improve the system of children’s social care in England.   

Barnardo’s welcomes the review. As a charity we have a wealth of experience working with both children in the care system and care experienced young people. We have been supporting children who can’t live with their own families for 155 years and we are the UK’s largest voluntary adoption and fostering agency.   

Our firm belief is that to be truly effective a review of the care system must hear directly from those people who know the system best – the children and young people who have direct experience of it. Nobody knows better what it is like to be taken into care, how it feels to have regular meetings with a social worker, or to experience living with foster parents or in residential care than the children and young people who have experienced this first-hand. 

Hearing from care experienced young people 

That is why over the last six months, we have been working with a core group of eight care experienced young people to ask them what they want from the care review in England. Through a series of themed workshops with the themes directed by the young people themselves young people told us what they see as the key challenges in the current system and the practical solutions needed to make it better. 

As well as working with this core group we also undertook other initiatives aimed at hearing the thoughts and ideas of young people from across our services, inviting them to get involved in whatever way they felt most comfortable. This included an online survey that could be completed anonymously, an opportunity to submit artwork, getting input from existing participation or consultation groups which exist in our services. 

What young people told us? 

Young people were clear that change was needed. As one young person commented 

It might be called the care system, but it doesn’t seem that they always care 

The young people emphasised several areas where improvements are needed to be made.  These include doing more to tackle loneliness and isolation, creating better early support for whole families and ensuring that young people are always listened to when decisions are made about their care. 

Young people talked about how they wanted to take part in activities that other children take for granted like going on school trips or visiting friends’ houses. Even when such activities are technically possible, rules mean children have to jump through extra hoops, like asking a friend’s parents to undergo a police check before they can stay over, which they find embarrassing.  

One young person said:   

I would go round to friends’ houses and deliberately not tell my carers where I was going as I didn’t want them to be phoning up asking friends’ parents for a DBS check, the system encouraged me to lie just to spend time with my friends.  

Staff turnover was a key concern and many of the young people had been supported by up to 10 different social workers before they reached 18, meaning they constantly had to retell their story to different professionals.  

They argue there needs to be a change in focus in social work, so workers can spend more time getting to know children and less time on paperwork.  

Finally, the group wants the care review to recommend better support for young people when they leave the care system.  

What needs to happen next?  

We must listen to the experiences of children in care and care experienced young people and seek to improve the system.   

The young people developed eight recommendations to change the system. These are: 

  1. There should be better support for families in trouble.

  2. Children in care should be listened to and should be able to have their say in decisions made about them. ​​

  3. There should be activities to tackle loneliness and isolation for care-experienced young people in every local authority. 

  4. Children in care should be able to participate in the same activities as those not in care. 

  5. Children and young people should be protected from discrimination related to their care status. 

  6. Children in care and care-experienced young people need workers who can build stable relationships and spend quality time with them. 

  7. Children in care and care-experienced young people need better access to mental health services.  

  8. Young people leaving care need more support as they become adults, particularly in finding the right place to live.