“Children’s Social Care – the Way Forward” has been prepared by UCLan’s Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, and produced in partnership with parent groups.
The Parents, Families and Allies Network (PFAN) brought together five organisations working with parents involved in children’s social care to make suggestions for transformational change, with the resulting report being based on the experiences of parents with lived experience of children’s social care, those working in the sector and social work academics.
The report calls for the creation of a panel of lawyers to independently represent parents in family courts described as “frightening, archaic and heavily weighted to take the side of children’s services”, and says the current system “alienates families and communities, fails to protect children and places older children at increased risk of involvement in gangs and sexual exploitation”.
The key role played by social work is highlighted, arguing the profession should be restored back to its core values in a better resourced system where the needs of families are met earlier and parents offered peer support and advocacy.
UCLan’s Andy Bilson, co-chair of PFAN, said: “We are concerned that the children’s social care system, under the pressure caused by the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, will restart the cycle of escalating investigations and blaming of parents which has seen one in every 16 children in England investigated before the age of five, yet no reduction in child deaths. To avoid this, transformational change is needed as well as urgent reforms.
“We will need to nurture and test out a range of strategies which shift the power from government and public services to parents, children and communities. Alongside this, immediate changes are required which must be co-led by parents and children with lived experience of children’s social care.”
The report highlights that the key change is the need for children’s social care to move from a culture of parent blame and child rescue, to partnership and participation, with greater parent advocacy improving family support.
It adds that a dedicated workforce should be created to co-produce services with families and promote the use of these services as alternatives to care and investigative approaches.