Those who attended the 11KBW Local Authority Conference on Tuesday will have heard me speak about the Children and Social Work Bill (“the Bill”). The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords in May of this year, and is currently working its way through that House.
[NB: The majority of the Bill covers devolved matters and therefore applies to England only, and not to Wales (although limited provisions concerning adoption decisions apply to both England and Wales).]
The Bill is said to have three purposes:-
- Improving decision making, and support for looked after and previously looked after children
- Enabling better learning about effective approaches to child protection and the wider provision of children’s social care in England; and
- Enabling the establishment of a new regulatory regime for social workers in England
The Bill contains some sensible provisions. It also contains some highly controversial provisions for children’s social care.
The controversial provisions are found in clauses 29-33. Clause 29 is headed, innocuously, “Power to test different ways of working”. What it actually contains is a power for the Secretary of State, upon request by a local authority, to make regulations either (a) exempting that local authority from any requirement imposed by children’s social care legislation, or (b) modifying the way in which those requirements apply in relation to that local authority.
The purpose of clause 29 is said to be to enable an English local authority to “test different ways of working with a view to achieving better outcomes under children’s social care legislation or achieving the same outcomes more efficiently”, and the power can only be exercised for this purpose. However, the effect is likely to be far reaching. The Secretary of State could dis-apply, or modify, almost every piece of child protection legislation that has been enacted in the last 80 years. It includes any legislation specified in Schedule 1 to the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (so far as it relates to those under the age of 18), sections23C-24D of the 1989 Act, the Children Act 2004 and any subordinate legislation made under these provisions. The regulations may be made for a three year period, and extended by a further three years.Where the Secretary of State has exercised intervention powers, regulations may be made on the request of the relevant individual appointed by the Secretary of State, and/or by the Secretary of State herself (see clause 32).
If enacted, this power could create a piecemeal system of protection for vulnerable children in England. This risks removing the safety net established by the current regime and returning to a post-code lottery of care. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has already expressed concern about the scope of the power ) and the clauses have been the subject of extensive criticism by Liberty and the newly established “Together for Children” umbrella group (set up to defend the rights of vulnerable children and young people during the passage of the Bill).
Other important clauses in the Bill include the following.
First, the Bill contains a framework of corporate parenting principles that will overlay existing duties of local authorities. These principles are formulated by way of a requirement to “have regard to the need” to do various things (see clause 1).
Second, the Bill would introduce a requirement for local authorities to consult on and publish a “local offer for care leavers”, setting out the support available to young people leaving their care (clause 2)
Third, the Bill seeks to insert a new section 23CZB into the Children Act 1989, which removes the requirement for former relevant children to be in education and training before they are entitled to a personal adviser, needs assessment and pathway plan (clause 3).
Next, there are provisions to improve the educational achievements of previously looked after children (making information and advice available for promoting educational achievement of such children and requiring schools to have a designated person responsible for promoting their educational achievement) (clauses 4-7).
Fourth, there are clauses to create a new framework for reviewing serious incidents at the local and national level, and for making the outcomes of those reviews public. The current version of the Bill would abolish Local Safeguarding Children Boards and replace them with safeguarding partnerships and child death review partnerships. It would also establish a central Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to conduct serious case reviews which raise complex issues or those of national importance. (clauses 11-28)
Finally, the Bill contains a framework for a new regulatory system for social workers.
The Report stage of the Bill is due to take place in the House of Lords on 18 October 2016, before the Bill then moves to the Commons. We will be blogging on the Bill’s progress, so do keep reading for updates.