This week I travelled to Manchester, I still prefer Birmingham, to deliver a keynote speech at a conference on Looked After Children. They are children for whom the state has assumed responsibility because they can no longer live with their parent or parents. Nearly 500,000 children are in the care system at any one time and over 2,000 of them are Birmingham children.
I was speaking in my role as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers. The event followed the publication of an independent review into the care system which its chair, Josh McAllister, called a once in a generation opportunity.
There have been many horror stories over the years. As a former social worker, I often feel some sympathy for overworked, overstretched and poorly managed staff although I’ve also questioned why it’s so easy for well-paid senior officers to flit from one good job to another while leaving a trail of questionable decisions behind them.
The review has some very clear themes. It argues for better support for families at a much earlier stage to reduce the number of breakdowns that result in children coming into care. It stresses that keeping children safe, both at home and in the care system, must be a priority. They are too many examples of the state failing those they take into care. McAllister wants more emphasis on supporting children’s relationships especially within their wider family but also with their informal, social networks. We don’t pay enough attention to children’s emotional needs and then wonder why they find it so hard to form good relationships in later life. Too often children are turned out of care situations at the age of 16 or 18 and left to fend for themselves.
This review has lots to commend it but we’re on our fifth children and families minister since I shadowed the job in 2015. The constant chopping and changing and failure to properly fund the system, McAllister wants £2Billion upfront for his family support plans, means we never really make the changes that matter. Birmingham youngsters deserve better.