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Get ahead with the legal update on the Children and Social Work Act

Children and Social Work Act 2017

The government’s intention with this legislation was to overhaul social work.

Read on to see what this means for frontline workers, vulnerable children and care leavers.

There were mixed views as to whether this legislation once passed did result in the social work profession’s loss of independence or whether raised the standard of social work practice.

The Act was announced in the Queen’s speech on 18th May 2016. 

Children Social Work Bill

The Act has three stated purposes: 

  • Care leavers

Ensuring children in care have the support they need as they move into adult life through a new “care leavers “covenant”, requiring local authorities to clearly sett out what care leavers are entitled to locally

  • Adoption

Increasing the number of children being adopted from care when it is in their best interests, where it is right plan for the child.

  • Regulation of social workers

Giving frontline services more freedom to work together to safeguard children and trial innovative approaches to deliver more effective care. The government’s reasoning for this was that there must be zero tolerance of state failure, and it will set demanding standards to be met by 2020 with a new regulator to oversee this new system.

Children and social work bill

Majority of the Act covers devolved matters and therefore applies to England only.

Some of the key changes the Act introduces:

Direct regulation of social workers

The Act permits the government to potentially directly regulate social workers by setting professional standards and create a government-controlled body for social workers, and to oversee the profession’s education, training, registration and fitness to practice. This would then replace the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) which is independent.

This Act will makes social workers the only health and social care profession to be directly regulated by the government.

Criminal offenses for social work misconduct.

The Act allows for a set of summary criminal offences to be introduced in connection with a social worker’s registration

  • Failing to comply with restrictions on their registration
  • Failing to provide documents to the regulator, or attending and providing evidence, in a fitness-to-practise hearing
  • Providing “false or misleading information” to the regulator

Children and social work bill

Extended services for looked after children and care leavers

The Act introduces new standards for how local authorities should act as a ‘corporate parent’ to support children in care and as they move into adult life. Section 1 sets out best practice which will enable a more detailed standard against which services will be measured.

Schools now have to appoint individuals who hold responsibility for helping care leavers, adopted children and children in special guardianship orders achieve positive educational outcomes. This means that these groups of children will be entitled to advice from the designated officer from the local authority and to extra school funding through the Pupil Premium.

There will be a requirement on local authorities to consult and publish a “local offer” setting out services care leavers are entitled to.

Local authorities will now need to guarantee care leavers a personal adviser until the age of 25. This is an extension to the current entitlement, as it now includes all former relevant children and not just those in education. This will enable Personal Advisers to make sure that the care leavers who want this service receive the support they need as they transition into adulthood, and up to the age of 25.

 

Children and social work bill

New Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

The Act introduces a new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel responsible for identifying  serious child safeguarding cases and will arrange for those cases to be reviewed where they consider it necessary. Local authorities must notify the Panel of specified events and the Panel will consider whether to review the case. The Act creates a duty on any person to comply with the Panel’s request for information

This is intended to offer better protection for children by ensuring that lessons are learnt from serious child safeguarding cases and it will promote more effective learning at national level from incidences of serious harm.

Prospective adopters

Section 9 of the Act amends S.1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to include a child’s prospective adopters within the definition of “relative”. This has the effect of recognising that when a child is placed with prospective adopters, that they have established a family life. This strengthens the prospective adopters positive should the courts be faced with any application by birth parents or family members prior to the making of the Adoption Order.

Speed up adoption process

The Act introduces the need for the courts and local authorities to take better account of a child’s need for stability up to the age of 18 when making decisions about their future.

It also places a duty on local authorities and schools to promote educational achievement for adopted children and those in the long-term care of family members or guardians under a Special Guardianship Order

Controversial power to exempt children’s services did not make it in the Act

The Bill included a section that allowed the government to exempt any local authority from any requirement imposed by children’s social care legislation, initially for up to 3 years and then extended for a further 3 years. This meant that further to consultation with LSCB partners, a local authority could result in the local authority seeking further exemptions if it considered a different way of working to achieve a better outcome or the same outcome more efficiently.

The thinking behind this power was that it could  assist local authorities to consider the learning from other sectors of what has worked well. However, there was a concern that a local authority by opting for the exemption could be seen as an attempt to create efficiency, could have the potential impact of  reduction of services or protection for certain groups of children or families.

After extensive debate was finally removed from and was not included in the final Act.

In summary:

The Bill proposes many changes which have the potential to support the good work that already takes place in local authorities. The changes relating to vulnerable children will make a real difference to their lives by improving their life chances. It  expands the framework of support for looked-after children and those leaving care.  The difficulty with the provision of additional services is that they require properly funding backing and at present there is no money allocated. Without the financial support, this will place a greater weight of responsibility on local authorities’ already stretched finances. This will, therefore, place  greater burden on local authorities who will have greater statutory responsibilities without the necessary resources.

The changes relating to the social work profession in parts are considered controversial and they should be subject to proper consultation before finalisation. However on a positive note, the changes may have the beneficial impact of increasing public confidence in the profession and for it to be regarded once again as the honourable profession that it is.

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