The Children and Social Work Bill
The Children and Social Work Bill is currently going through Parliament. This document outlines the key issues of the Bill as well as briefly outlining their impact upon children of families who have social care needs.
Background and key issues of the Bill
In a speech in September 2015, the Prime Minister made it clear that improving the quality of children and families social workers and children's services was a key reform priority for the Government, calling it a "big area of focus over the next five years". This inquiry into social work reform was prompted by the lack of clarity on how the Government intended to achieve its aim. The Department responded to this in December 2015 and it concentrated on how the Government would deliver three core aims. The first was improving the skills of capacity of the workforce, by introducing a new accreditation and assessment system, and expanding accelerated schemes into children and families social work. The second was creating quality working environments focused on efficiency and innovation, through funding from the Children's Social Care Innovation Programme and sharing best practice from high-performing local authorities. The third was streamlining governance and accountability by working with local authorities and others on new models for delivering children's social care, such as independent trusts, and intervening earlier in local authorities with records of persistent failure.
The House of Commons Education Select Committee on Social Work Reform report was written in 2016 and in its summary declares that 'in January 2016 the Government announced a set of proposals to reform children and families social work'. In its Introduction it reflects on the link between social work and children with 'social workers have a crucial role in improving outcomes for children, young people and families, and it is in this context we examine the best ways to support and improve children and families social workers'.
The Government announced the Children and Social Work Bill in the 2016 Queen's Speech. Two of the stated purposes of the Bill are to enable better learning about effective approaches to child protection and children's social care, and to enable the establishment of a new social work regulatory regime. Both these purposes relate to proposals in the Government's reform strategy. The Children and Social Work Bill proposes a new regulator for all social workers, yet its powers will be determined by regulations from the Secretary of State for Education, rather than Health. The Bill includes provisions for setting up a new regulatory body for social workers. Little detail of how the system will work is set out in the Bill.
Clause 15 of the Children and Social Work Bill is entitled Children's social care: different ways of working. Its stated purpose is "to enable a local authority in England to test different ways of working with a view to achieving better outcomes under children's social care legislation or achieving the same outcomes more efficiently". This clause is driven by one of the core tenets of the Government's social work reform strategy: to stimulate the level of innovation in the children's social care system. The Children and Social Work Bill proposes exemptions for certain local authorities from the requirements of social care legislation, similar to current powers for the Secretary of State to exempt local authorities from the requirements of education legislation set out in Part 1 of the Education Act 2002.
Views on impact of the Bill
According to a BBC article written in 2017, the legal duties affected by the Bill relate to nearly all the social care services children receive from local authorities laid down in numerous acts of Parliament. These include statutory rights on child protection, family support, children's homes and fostering, support to care leavers and services for disabled children. The article states that The Children and Social Work Bill would let local councils apply to set aside children's rights and checks on care to try out innovative ways of working. The government argues it is a bold approach to removing red tape.
However, campaigners say allowing councils to opt out of these long standing duties is risky and unnecessary. Furthermore, the Bill has been described by opposition as a 'bonfire of child protection rights', which would let councils opt out of key legal duties to children.
The BBC article goes on to present an assertion of shadow children's minister Emma Lewell-Buck which shows that that the Bill could potentially adversely impact upon children of families who have social care needs. She says "this legislation breaks with the post-war consensus of protecting the most vulnerable children in our communities, by removing the obligations on local authorities to carry out a series of measures which benefit them. It could allow local authorities to fail to provide accommodation to looked-after children, remove the requirement to assess the needs of disabled children as they approach adulthood and even prevent children in care having reasonable contact with their parents".