Last week the Department for Education made temporary changes to 10 sets of children’s social care regulations in England. The changes were intended to introduce greater flexibility for local authorities and providers operating under the current challenging circumstances.
In response to the changes, Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: ‘The coronavirus pandemic is creating an unprecedented set of circumstances for all sectors of society, including children’s social care. Given this, it is important that all those involved in ensuring the safety, wellbeing and nurturing of looked after children take a flexible approach wherever possible, but this must never be at the risk to the safeguarding or outcomes of children in care.
‘Therefore, while we recognise the need behind the new social care regulations – to ease administrative burdens and to ensure that there is sufficient capacity within the fostering sector – we are extremely concerned that the new regulations risk undermining the essential safeguarding practices that have, until now, been in place.
‘For example, while it is likely to be necessary to find emergency foster carers during this pandemic, and a full health check is not possible to obtain currently, we do not understand why important checks and balances such as fostering panels are no longer a requirement. We know that many fostering services have already successfully moved to holding virtual fostering panels and hope that all services will continue to function in this way despite the new regulations.
‘As another example, the fact that the six-monthly independent reviews of a child’s care plan is no longer required means that the possibility of a child’s care plan drifting is increased, and this cannot be in the best interests of children.
‘These changes are temporary with a review in September. However, the review can be revoked meaning that what are currently changes being driven by the pandemic could potentially become permanent changes. Given the lack of consultation surrounding these new regulations, with many children’s charities and organisations feeling excluded from the process, this would be extremely disturbing and detrimental to children.
‘Along with other charities and organisations, we are raising our concerns with the Government. We are also continuing to work alongside and supporting our fostering service members to maintain best practice in the light of these new regulations, ensuring that the safety and outcomes of children in foster care remain the priority.'