Transformation to children's social care to put families first

First local areas selected to test initial set of transformational programmes within children’s social care, supporting families through early help

Dorset, Lincolnshire and Wolverhampton are the first 3 areas to be chosen today to deliver the Families First for Children programme. They will test new ways to reform every part of the children’s social care system, helping children to stay with their families in safe and loving homes, whilst protecting vulnerable children where needed.

The programme aims to ensure early help and intervention is available for families with challenges such as addiction, domestic abuse or poor mental health, to help them overcome adversity and stay together where possible, and to identify when to intervene to protect a vulnerable child when needed.

Separately, Brighton and Hove, Sunderland, Gateshead, Telford and Wrekin, Staffordshire, Hartlepool and Hammersmith and Fulham have been chosen to deliver Family Network pilots to find transformative ways to involve wider family members in supporting parents so that children can stay at home with their families.

The programmes, which are the cornerstone of the government’s ambitious and wide-ranging children’s social care implementation strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love, will transform the current system, focusing on more early support for families, reducing the need for crisis response at a later stage. Funded by £45 million collectively, the 2 programmes will help develop the best practice models for the entire children’s social care system that can then be rolled out across the country.

Stable Homes, Built on Love responds to recommendations made in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, led by Josh MacAlister, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s review into the tragic deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) review. The findings revealed the current care system is often fragmented, siloed, and struggling to meet the needs of children and families across England.

The areas will work to deliver support to families based on three principles:

  • Delivering family help through local multi-disciplinary teams working with partners to provide welcoming and effective support, tailored to the needs of children and families;
  • Where child protection is necessary, it is carried out by social workers with greater expertise and experience, and time to dedicate to the family and child;
  • Greater use of family networks, involving the wider family in decision-making and with them being the first port of call if the child does have to leave the family home.

Brighton and Hove, Sunderland, Gateshead and Telford and Wrekin will start their Family Network pilots this month (July), and Staffordshire, Hartlepool and Hammersmith and Fulham will start in spring 2024.

Local authorities are also encouraged to apply to set up regional care co-operatives, another element of reform first announced in Stable Homes, Built on Love.

Children, Families and Wellbeing Minister, Claire Coutinho, said:

"We committed earlier this year to deliver wide-ranging reforms that put strong relationships at the heart of the children’s social care system, to make sure children in care receive the same love and stability as everyone else.

"Today, we take a step closer to achieving just that, thanks to the ambition these areas are showing for the life chances of their most vulnerable children.

"The programme they are running will inform future reform across England to give every child the best possible chance to grow up in their family, delivering on the Prime Minister’s ambition to support families across the country."

Regional Care Co-operatives will plan, commission, and deliver children’s social care placements and are part of a broader package of measures to transform the care placement market. Further measures include: responding to the Competition and Markets Authority recommendations to provide national forecasting, procurement and market shaping support; supporting local areas to increase sufficiency of placements; introducing a financial oversight regime; and reforming care standards.

To achieve this long-term vision, the Regional Care Co-operatives pathfinders will enable a test and learn approach to find the most effective way of implementing this reform, doing so in conjunction with local government and the children’s social care sector.

Children who grow up in loving, stable homes tend to have better outcomes, which is why the proposals put relationships at the heart of the care system.

Department for Education
Claire Coutinho MP