This paper analyses the Children and Social Work [HL] ahead of Commons Report Stage. The Bill concerns children in care and care leavers, safeguarding children arrangements, powers for local authorities to test different ways of working, and the regulation of social workers among other matters.Jump to full report >>
Clause 1 would introduce seven “corporate parenting principles” that local authorities “must have regard to” in respect of currently looked after children (i.e. children subject to a care order or in local authority accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours), as well as certain former looked after children. Clause 2 would require a local authority to publish its “local offer” setting out the statutory services available to care leavers, and Clause 3 would allow all former relevant children aged under 25 years, as opposed to those in education or training as is currently the case, to continuing support from a personal adviser on request. During the Lords’ consideration of the Bill, it was agreed that the matter of children’s mental health should be specifically stated in the corporate parenting principles. In respect of the local offer, the Government accepted it should include information on relationships.
Local authorities and maintained schools in England currently have a range of statutory duties in relation to supporting the education of looked after children. Clauses 4 to 7 of the Bill would extend many of these duties to previously looked after children who have left care through adoption, Special Guardianship Order, or Child Arrangements Order. They would also place academy schools under similar statutory duties to maintained schools. In general, these clauses have been welcomed and were only subject to minor amendment during the Bill’s House of Lords stages, although the Government gave a number of undertakings. It committed, for example, to bringing forward amendments during the Commons Stages of the Bill to ensure that qualifying children adopted from overseas were covered by the measures. During the Commons Committee Stage, the Government tabled amendments to bring children adopted internationally within the scope of the Bill’s education provisions, and these were agreed without a vote.
Clause 8 extends the “permanence provisions” in relation to a care plan for a child in care to include so that when a court is making decisions about the long term placement of children it includes an assessment of the child’s current and future needs, including any current and future needs resulting from the impact of harm that a child has suffered (or are likely to have suffered). Clause 9 would amend the existing adoption provisions so that any relationship with a prospective adopter is among the matters to which a court or adoption agency must have regard to.
Clause 10 will provide a legislative basis for the transfer of children to secure accommodation in Scotland from England and Wales, and vice versa. Schedule 1 amends existing legislation in this respect.
Clauses 12 to 15 would establish a new national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, whose chair and members would be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Panel would review serious child safeguarding cases in England which “raise issues that are complex or of national importance”.
Clauses 16 to 23 would replace the structure of existing Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) with new local arrangements for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, a central feature of which will be there are only three safeguarding partners – local authority, and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and police forces falling within that local authority area, although they could choose to invite other agencies. They will be responsible for undertaking local child safeguarding practice reviews in respect of serious cases which raise issues of importance to the local area. During Lords consideration, the Government agreed that the focus of such reviews should be on what improvements can be made, rather than “lessons learned” which was considered to be too broad.
Clauses 24 to 28 would establish child death review panels, composed of a local authority and the CCGs within that local authority area, and would review the death of a child in the local authority (and may do so even if the child was not normally resident there).
This Chapter was inserted at Commons Committee Stage, after similar provisions were removed at Lords Report Stage following a division.
Clauses 32 to 39 would allow a local authority to apply to the Secretary of State if they wished to test different ways of working under children’s social care legislation. The Secretary of State would be able to make regulations allowing one or more local authorities or combined authorities to be exempt from certain legislation, or for the legislation to be modified in respect of that authority. However, those regulations may not be used so as to remove any prohibition on a local authority in England arranging for functions to be carried out by a body whose activities are carried on for profit.
At present, whistleblower law protects workers from being subjected to detriment for making public interest disclosures, but does not prohibit discrimination against job applicants who are known to have blown the whistle at a previous employer. Clause 40 of the Bill would provide a power for the Secretary of State to extend whistleblower protections to persons who apply to work in “children’s social care positions”, as defined in the Bill. A similar power currently exists in relation to workers in the health service, enacted following calls to strengthen whistleblowing protections in the wake of the events at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Clause 41 extends the Secretary of State’s existing power to secure “proper performance” to combined authorities.
Social work regulation is a devolved matter. Social workers in England are currently regulated alongside 15 other health and care professions by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). HCPC’s role is to protect the public by ensuring that only qualified and competent practitioners are allowed to practice as social workers.
Part 2 (Clauses 42 to 67 and Schedules 3 and 4) of the Bill creates a new independent regulator of social workers in England called Social Work England. The overarching objective of the regulator in exercising its functions will be the protection of the public. It will have a remit to: keep a register of social workers in England; set social work professional, education and training standards; and determine an individual social worker’s fitness to practice.
The Bill enables the Secretary of State, by way of regulations, to make certain provisions regarding the regulation of social work in England. Provisions may include: requirements for keeping a register of social workers; prohibitions or restrictions in connection with the carrying out of social work; arrangements for assessing whether a person meets professional standards; provision about disciplinary action; the creation of offences in connection with social work regulation; conferring powers on the regulator to charge fees; and the transfer of property, rights and liabilities from HCPC to the new regulator. Regulations under Part 2 are subject to consultation and the affirmative resolution procedure.
The Bill also enables the Secretary of State to determine and publish improvement standards for social workers in England, and it allows for the responsibility to approve courses for Approved Mental Health Professionals and Best Interest Assessors to transfer to the new regulator. The Secretary of State will be required to commission an independent review of the operation of Part 2 within five years of the new regulator being established.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7800
Authors: Tim Jarrett; Hannah Cromarty; Nerys Roberts; Douglas Pyper; Rachael Harker; Paul Bolton; Robert Long