The Children and Social Work Bill was introduced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016 and is currently in the House of Commons, having been through the House of Lords. The proposed legislation will affect looked after children, care leavers, and social workers in England. To be kept up to date on this and our other campaigns work please sign up to our campaigners email list.
We believe the Bill provides an opportunity to improve outcomes for looked after children, but we are concerned that it has been introduced in the absence of a wider strategy on children in care.
We have a number of concerns about the Bill as it currently stands, in particular:
- We welcome the inclusion of the corporate parenting principles in clause 1 of the Bill. However, we believe that these can be further strengthened by adding a new principle to support relationships between children and young people and their families and carers.
- We are concerned that long-term fostering is not on an equal footing with adoption and special guardianship orders in the Bill when it comes to possible permanence options for children in care. Clause 8 specifically mentions adoption as a permanence option, it does not explicitly include long-term foster care which will, for the majority of children, be the best possible permanence option.
- We would like to see whistleblowing for foster carers incorporated into the Bill. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) does not cover foster carers. Foster carers are in a vulnerable position if they choose to speak out about alleged wrongdoing or poor practice. We are concerned that this may act as a disincentive to foster carers, putting vulnerable children at risk. We support the recommendation of the the Whistleblowing Commission chaired by Sir Anthony Cooper that the Government uses the powers set out in section 20 of the Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act 2013 to extend PIDA to cover foster carers.
- Clause 29 of the Bill - removed in the Lords but now reintroduced in the Commons - introduces the potential for some elements of child protection legislation to be bypassed in order to allow children's services departments to 'innovate'. We are not at all convinced of the need for this. This is our position on the clause, jointly developed with the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers:
- “The Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers is extremely concerned about the impact Clauses 29-33 could have upon individual children and wider populations of looked after children, care leavers and children being supported at home. We have seen no evidence that statutory duties prevent children’s services from meeting children’s needs and protecting their rights, indeed our members frequently rely on the law to access services and support for children and young people. We urge the Government to rethink whether such radical legislation is in the interests of children.”
We will be seeking to address our concerns regarding the maintaining of relationships and the importance of long-term fostering as a permanence option through our advocacy work, particularly in relation to the Westminster Government's fostering stocktake and the Education Committee's inquiry into fostering.