Care Inquiry calls for decisions based on need not legal status

02 May 2013

Eight leading charities are urging the Government to rethink care and the way in which the most vulnerable children and families who encounter the care system are treated in England. The call to base decisions on need and not legal status comes following an eight-month inquiry into the best way to provide permanent homes for children.

The Care Inquiry, which has outlined its findings and recommendations in Making Not Breaking – Building Relationships for our Most Vulnerable Children, found that the care system too often breaks not makes relationships for children in care. 

The Inquiry heard that when children move, which they still do too often, important relationships are needlessly being broken and lost. Moreover, support for children and the adults who look after them is currently based on legal status and not on need.  

As a result, the Inquiry concluded that a new approach must be taken to finding permanent homes for those children in and on the edge of care. The current Government focus on and improvements in adoption must be matched by improvements in support for children going home from care or living with relatives or foster families.

The report highlights the need to recognise and treat all options – return home, kinship care, adoption, foster care, special guardianship, and residential care – as equally valid, and given the same political, financial and cultural priority.

The Inquiry is calling for a system that places need at its heart, helps to build and maintain ongoing relationships for children and ensures that the right support is provided for all children into adulthood.

The failings of the care system have long been recognised, but the Inquiry found that they are becoming increasingly urgent and require a fresh approach. The increase in poverty, unemployment and changes to the benefit system are putting additional strains on families in difficulties. This has then been compounded by public sector cuts reducing the ability of local authorities to carry out their duty of care towards vulnerable children. The number of children in the care system in England has risen since 2008 and is continuing to rise.

Robert Tapsfield, chair of the Care Inquiry steering group, said: “The work of the Inquiry left us in no doubt that the care system continues to fail too many children, and that tackling this problem is increasingly urgent and requires a fresh approach

“What has been particularly striking is that all those giving evidence to the Inquiry – children, care leavers, adoptees, social workers, adopters, foster carers, birth families, practitioners, managers  and academics – spoke with one voice about the need for the system to make, protect and nurture relationships, not break them.

“The message for Government today is that we need to rethink care, and how children are being treated within the system. Our report contains a huge range of policy and practice issues, but at its heart is the need for cultural change. All care options are equally valid, all decisions about children should be in their best interests, and all their relationships must be valued and treated with respect.”

Andrew Webb, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said: “The Care Inquiry is a very timely and important piece of work that highlights the need for all children to be looked at as individuals. The focus of the inquiry on ensuring a child is fully supported in developing their sense of personal identity and the contribution of good social work to that process is particularly welcome.

“Whilst the government has prioritised adoption, adoption is not right for every child and all other available options including fostering, kinship care, special guardianship and residential care must be explored to meet the specific needs of each child. ADCS members will continue to work with the government and other partners to ensure that outcomes for children are improved as a result of care, ensuring that care makes a positive impact on the lives of some of our most vulnerable children.”

About the Care Inquiry
  • The Care Inquiry is a collaboration of eight charities (Adoption UK, British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), Family Rights Group, the Fostering Network, Research in Practice, TACT, The Together Trust and The Who Cares? Trust), and is partly funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
  • Over the past eight months Inquiry activities have included three sessions with a broad range of participants with direct experience of care or the work of the care system. The Inquiry also ran a consultation exercise with children and young people with experience of adoption, fostering, kinship and residential care, facilitated a review of the research evidence by an academic group, responded to queries and submissions, and used social media to encourage a wide interest in the issues under discussion.

  • Making Not Breaking – Building Relationships for our Most Vulnerable Children consists of findings of the Care Inquiry and a range of recommendations focusing on cultural change, policy and practice. 

  • Around 64,000 children and young people are in care and looked after away from home in England on any one day. The majority of these (50,000) live with 45,000 foster carers. Around 7,350 new foster families are needed in 2013 alone.

  • Most children who cease to be looked after return home. Around 3,500 children are adopted from care in a year although that is expected to rise significantly. It is estimated that an additional 600 adopters are required per year to meet demand, in addition to the current shortfall of 2,000 adopters for children already waiting. 

  • Census analysis from 2001 also shows over 143,000 children in England who were unable to live with their parents were being raised by wider family, and the number is likely to have risen sharply since then. Only a small proportion (around 5 per cent) of these are in care.