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

Children and Social Work Bill– Controversial or Beneficial? You decide what this new legislation means to you.

The government’s new proposed legislation is intended to overhaul social work.

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

There are mixed views as to whether this legislation once passed will result in the social work profession’s loss of independence or whether it will assist in raising the standard of social work practice.

The Bill was announced in the Queen’s speech on 18th May 2016. It is currently under scrutiny in the House of Lords, the first reading was on 19th May 2016 and it has had its second reading on 14 June 2016.

Children Social Work Bill

There are mixed views as to whether this legislation once passed will result in the social work profession’s loss of independence or whether it will assist in raising the standard of social work practice.

The bill 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”. The PM announced that the covenant will be a promise made by local authorities setting 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. The government’s intention is to tip the balance in favour of adoption 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 is 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

The Government has stated that the majority of the Bill covers devolved matters and therefore applies to England only.

Some of the key proposals in the bill:

Direct regulation of social workers

The Bill 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.

The passing of this Act will make social workers the only health and social care profession to be directly regulated by the government.

Criminal offenses for social work misconduct.

The bill allows for a set of summary criminal offenses 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 Bill proposes the introduction of 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 and will enable a more detailed standard against which services will be measured.

Schools will 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 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.

This has serious resource implications for local authorities. At present, it is not clear whether these extended duties will include accommodation or financial support in the same way that it is currently provided to care leavers under 21 who are in education. Further clarification is required by the Act, once passed or perhaps by the courts as to whether the extension of service will include the provision of accommodation and financial support for care leavers who are unable to access public funds.

Power to exempt children’s services

The Bill allows 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 another 3 years. This means that further to consultation with LSCB partners, a local authority can seek exemption if it considers a different way of working to achieve a better outcome or the same outcome more efficiently.

This may assist local authorities to consider the learning from other sectors of what has worked well. However, there is a concern that a local authority by opting for the exemption in an attempt to create efficiency, could have the potential impact of  reduction of services or protection for certain groups of children or families.

Children and social work bill

New Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

This new Panel will identify serious child safeguarding cases in England which raise issues that are complex or of national importance, 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 Bill 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 learned from serious child safeguarding cases and it will promote more effective learning at national level from incidences of serious harm.

Prospective adopters

Section 9 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 the adopters, that they have established a family life. This will be a relevant consideration when the courts are considering an application by birth parents or family members to oppose the making of the adoption order.

Speed up adoption process

The Bill proposes that courts and local authorities 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.

Conclusion:

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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