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Legal organisations – letter in The Times

22 February 2017

A letter from leading legal organisations, against the exemption clauses, was published in The Times newspaper today:

Sir,

Under proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill, this and future governments will be able to exempt individual local authorities from existing statutory duties to children and young people without further parliamentary approval. Put simply, the legal rights of children will depend on where they live.

After the defeat of the clauses in the House of Lords, some core duties to children in need are protected from exemption applications, but there is no protection for the most vulnerable group of all: the 50,000 children who have been found by the court to have suffered significant harm and have been placed in care under a care order.

This process involves a judge entrusting a local authority with legal parental responsibility, overriding the legal responsibility of the child’s parents. Unlike real parents, the new corporate parents may in future have different legal duties to their children from the corporate parents next door. We must not allow these clauses to pass into law.

MARTHA COVER AND DEBBIE SINGLETON, Co-Chairwomen, Association of Lawyers for Children
ROBERT BOURNS, President, The Law Society
PHILIP MARSHALL QC, Chairman, Family Law Bar Association
NIGEL SHEPHERD, Chairman, Resolution

Professor Eileen Munro says exemption clauses are “a serious danger”

10 February 2017

The London School of Economics professor whose work has been consistently cited by Ministers as the inspiration for controversial clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill has deserted the policy.

In an email yesterday (9 February) to Article 39’s Director, Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck and former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, Professor Eileen Munro said:

“I have been reading the debates in Hansard and the submissions … I’ve also been meeting with some of those who oppose the Bill and I have reached the conclusion that the power to have exemption from primary and secondary legislation creates more dangers than the benefits it might produce … While I understand and respect the motivation of the current Government, there is a serious danger in having such wide-reaching powers in statute.  Some future Secretary of State might use them in ways that are completely contrary to the current intentions and consequently subvert the will of Parliament.”

Read more:

Community Care
Children and Young People Now
BBC News

MPs ignore severe child protection warnings from large body of experts

9 February 2017

A new report shows a large body of experts warned MPs of the grave danger of undoing decades of legal protection for vulnerable children and young people.

This advice was ignored by the Committee of MPs debating the Children and Social Work Bill, which contains radical opt-out clauses allowing individual councils to be excused from child protection and welfare duties.

The Committee invited expert submissions before it voted on the clauses last month.

Today, the campaign group Together for Children releases a synopsis of the expert advice. This brings together all of the evidence for the first time, and shows:

  • 46 individual experts and organisations warned the Committee that allowing councils to opt-out of duties could cause great harm and reverse decades of progress in protecting very vulnerable children and young people
  • Individual experts who provided evidence to the Committee have more than 650 years’ collective experience of working with vulnerable children and young people
  • The Committee was given numerous case studies of individual children and young people whose welfare and safety depends on council duties
  • Only one of the 47 submissions on the opt-out clauses supported the Government’s plan to break up children’s law
  • This was the first public consultation on the Bill. There were no Green or White Papers, and no consultation has taken place with those who will be directly affected – including children living in foster care, children’s homes, disabled children, young carers and young people who have left care.

The radical opt-out plans were rejected by the House of Lords in November. The following month, Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP tabled amendments to reinstate the controversial clauses, and these were pushed through on 10 January, on a 10-5 vote split along party political lines.

None of the 10 Conservative MPs who voted to reinstate legal opt-outs referred to any of the expert warnings submitted to the Committee.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said:

“It is scandalous that the Government continues to ignore vital evidence at every juncture – wilfully placing cost-cutting ahead of the rights and safety of our children.

“Its blind commitment to effectively dismantle almost a century of crucial child protection laws, against the wishes of professionals on the frontline, experts, Peers and the public, serves shames on our great democracy.

“These proposals are fundamentally dangerous and will expose vulnerable young people to the risk of abuse and neglect – principled MPs have no option but to shut them down.”

Judith Timms OBE speaking on behalf of Nagalro, the professional association of children’s guardians appointed by the courts to advise on children’s welfare, said:

“Children’s rights shouldn’t depend on their postcode. It is both unworkable and unethical. If these exemption clauses continue to be pushed through, our country’s most vulnerable children and young people will no longer have any certainty that the law will protect them. It is unacceptable that our members should be required to represent the interests of children in different ways depending on where they live, or have to keep children and the courts updated on which local authorities have opted- out of which legal duties and obligations.”

Emeritus Professor of Social Work, June Thoburn CBE, said:

“None of the substantial body of research on the workings of the Children Act 1989 points to the need for any specific sections of the legislation to be suspended on the grounds that they are impeding flexible and good quality practice. These clauses are a severe threat to children’s rights and it’s bitterly disappointing the Government appears so fixed on ignoring the social work profession.”

Jacki Rothwell, Chair of Trustees of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, said:

“It is disquieting that, despite so many opportunities over the past few months, the proponents of the exemption clauses have not provided any evidence that current legislation is a barrier to innovation, different ways of working or improving outcomes for vulnerable children. Taken together with the apparent lack of interest shown by the Public Bill Committee in the first public consultation on the Bill’s provisions, we have to ask what is the real driver for these exemption clauses. Who stands to benefit from these clauses because it certainly isn’t vulnerable children?”

Professor Mike Stein has been researching and supporting improvements in leaving care since the 1970s. He said:

“From the Children Act 1948 onward the legal and policy framework for young people leaving care has been strengthened by new duties derived from independent research, consultations with care leavers, policy makers and practitioners; inspections; and, leadership from government departments. This has resulted in a comprehensive and universal legal framework. It is crucial that young people leaving care, wherever they happen to live, continue to be legally entitled to the full range of statutory support. There are great risks in fragmenting an established and comprehensive universal service, not least a return to the failures of a discretionary system which resulted in both territorial and service injustices.”

John Simmonds OBE, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF, said:

“As individual citizens, all children have a right to be protected by the law wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. This could not be more important than for those children at risk and in need where the State becomes directly involved in safeguarding them or planning for their immediate and long-term welfare. The clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill, misleadingly termed ‘power to test different ways of working’ fundamentally challenge those rights and seeks to remove them. The House of Lords recognised this in deleting these clauses.

“If the law needs to be changed to protect and safeguard children, then this must be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny as it is and required for every other citizen. It is not a matter to be tested by a small group of individuals in a closed discussion in a government department.

“Children deserve and need their fundamental rights to be protected and enhanced. And the Commons has a unique opportunity to ensure that this continues now and into the future.”

Carolyne Willow, Article 39 Director, said:

“Lively and heated debates are happening within Parliament, and all over the country, about the future of our democracy and the rule of law. Yet here we have a Bill slipped into Parliament, without any public consultation, which threatens to destroy the legal scaffolding holding up the vital help and protection we offer to our most vulnerable children and young people. It is the single biggest threat to our child welfare system I have seen. MPs in that Committee had the great privilege and responsibility of making law for abused, disadvantaged and vulnerable children. They chose not to listen and learn from the huge body of expertise, and now we have a Bill that once again is unworthy of children.”

Notes
1         The report is released by Together for Children, the campaign group formed to fight the opt-out clauses. 49 organisations and more than 150 individual experts are members of the campaign group. Its online 38 Degrees petition has been signed by more than 107,000 members of the public.
2         The Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Children and Social Work Bill issued its invitation for expert evidence on 6 December. Submissions on the exemption clauses had to be made by 6 January 2017, to have any chance of influencing MPs.
3         The Shadow Children’s Minister, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, has tabled amendments to once again remove the clauses from the Bill. A date for the Bill’s next Commons stage has not yet been fixed. MPs begin recess tomorrow and will return on 20 February.

Exemption clauses raised at Education Questions

6 February 2017

Education Questions in the House of Commons this afternoon (6 February) included a question about local authority legal opt-outs. You can watch the exchange between Shadow Minister for Children and Families, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, and the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP, by clicking on the link below.

Education Questions – exemption clauses (clip from Parliament TV)

Evidence to Commons Committee published

13 January 2017

The House of Commons Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Children and Social Work Bill has now published all of the evidence it received about the exemption clauses, before it voted to reinstate them on Tuesday (10 January). This reveals that just one of 48 submissions* supported the exemption clauses.

*Two submissions were made by the same individual, which means the Committee received submissions from 47 separate organisations and individuals. Of these, 44 opposed the exemption clauses and a further two expressed concerns.

EVIDENCE TO PUBLIC BILL COMMITTEE – EXEMPTION CLAUSES

Commons Written Evidence: Liberty (CSWB 73) 11.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Jay Williams (CSWB 15) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Article 39 (CSWB 16) (PDF, 353KB) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: John Dawson, Senior Social Work Practitioner (CSWB 17) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Alice Barker Trust (CSWB 18) (PDF, 91KB) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Sonia Mainstone-Cotton (CSWB 19) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Dr Judith King (CSWB 20) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Kirsty Walker (CSWB 21) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: British Association of Social Workers England (CSWB 23) (PDF, 165KB) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Jon Blend (CSWB 24) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Yorkshire & Humberside Independent Panel Chairs forum (CSWB 25) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Michael Shaw (CSWB 26) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Dr Steve Rogowski (CSWB 27) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Dr Peter Whitaker (CSWB 28) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: CoramBAAF (CSWB 29) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Children England (CSWB 30) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Alan Kennelly (CSWB 31) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Louise O’Sullivan IRO (CSWB 32) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: John Kemmis (CSWB 33) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Lisa Bailey (CSWB 34) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Helen Macfarlane (CSWB 35) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: John Plummer (CSWB 36) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Ms Roisin Sweeny (CSWB 38) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Alderman Mark Fittock (CSWB 41) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Bolanle Kayode (CSWB 43) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Nagalro (CSWB 45) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Action for Children (CSWB 46) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Professor Mike Stein (CSWB 47) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Anne Jackson (CSWB 48) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: London and South East regional Foster Panel Chairs forum (CSWB 49) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Royal College of Nursing (CSWB 51) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Pete Bentley (CSWB 52) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Pete Bentley (supplementary) (CSWB 52A) 10.01.2017
Commons THE ONLY SUBMISSION SUPPORTING THE EXEMPTION CLAUSES Written Evidence: Local Government Association (CSWB 53) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Young Futures (CSWB 55) (PDF, 282KB) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Association of Professors of Social Work (CSWB 57) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Dr Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London (CSWB 59) (PDF, 321KB) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CSWB 60) (PDF, 394KB) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Oliver Mills (CSWB 62) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Dr Anna Gupta (CSWB 64) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: National Association of Reviewing Officers (NAIRO) (CSWB 65) (PDF, 300KB) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Emeritus Professor June Thoburn (CSWB 66) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Maria Stanley (CSWB 67) 10.01.2017
Commons Written Evidence: Women’s Aid (CSWB 09) (PDF, 334KB) 15.12.2016
Commons Written Evidence: Women Against Rape (WAR) (CSWB 10) 15.12.2016
Commons Written Evidence: Independent Children’s Homes Association (CSWB 13) 15.12.2016
Commons Written Evidence: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (CSWB 06) 13.12.2016
Commons Written Evidence: Legal Action for Women (CSWB 08) 13.12.2016

The submissions listed above are taken from the Public Bill Committee / Parliament website, which you can access here. (Submissions are published after the Committee meets).

Exemption clauses back in the Bill

10 January 2017

As we anticipated, the Public Bill Committee has voted 10-5 to put the exemption clauses back in the Children and Social Work Bill. Evidence received by the Committee on the exemption powers was unanimous in opposing Children Minister Edward Timpson’s amendments.

Of 34 submissions published to date, relating to the exemption clauses, 0 supported the Government’s position and 34 opposed.

The Bill had been cleared of the exemption clauses in November, after the Government was defeated in the House of Lords.

These clauses, if they remain in the Bill, will allow individual councils to be excused from their children’s social care legal duties required by Acts of Parliament (and accompanying subordinate legislation) from 1933 onwards. The Government has decided that six sections of the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 will, however, be exempted from the exemptions.

The House of Commons Committee considering the Bill is weighted in the Government’s favour so today’s vote was expected.

Together for Children will continue to defend universal children’s social care rights, and press for Green and White Paper consultation.

Read the evidence here (scroll down to ‘written evidence’).

MPs urged to reject exemption clauses – first evidence to Public Bill Committee

3 January 2017

Five of 13 submissions published by the Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Children and Social Work Bill oppose government amendments that seek to reinstate the exemption clauses. None of the 13 documents express any support for the revised exemption clauses tabled by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson in December, following the House of Lords defeat the previous month.

All of the 13 submissions were made shortly after the Committee’s call for evidence on 6 December. Other evidence will not be published until after the Committee has voted on the exemption clauses, though it will be considered by MPs if submitted before 9 January.

The submission from Women’s Aid states:

“We call on Members of Parliament to protect universal children’s social care statutory duties as the Bill proceeds through the House of Commons.”

Women Against Rape says:

“We are completely opposed to government amendments which seek to remove statutory protection in the name of ‘innovation’, effectively privatising children’s services.” [emphasis in original]

The Independent Children’s Homes Association warns:

“this Bill seeks to sweep away universal entitlement and replace it with vicarious contingency locally determined, severely affecting the most important factor in the upbringing of vulnerable children, the secure emotional base.”

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health submission states:

“The RCPCH calls on MPs to reject New Clauses NC2-NC9 from the Bill and protect the legislative framework for children’s social care.”

Legal Action for Women explains:

“We are opposed to New Clauses 2 and 3 (NC2, NC3) proposed by Edward Timpson, which re-introduce the Clauses removed by the House of Lords and allow local authorities to “opt out” of statutory child protection measures so that they could be outsourced and eventually “run for profit”.

Submissions can be read here.

Date set for Commons vote on exemption clauses

16 December 2016

The Committee of MPs scrutinising the Children and Social Work Bill will consider Government amendments to reinstate the exemption clauses on Tuesday 10 January 2017. The session will begin at 09.25am.

We are urging everyone with personal and/or professional experience of children’s social care to submit evidence no later than Friday 6 January.

Information about how to submit evidence is available on the Parliament site here.

You can find out about the revised clauses on this part of the Together for Children site.

Committee membership

Chairs:

Other members:

Government says it will reinstate exemption clauses

5 December 2016

Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP confirmed today that the Government plans to reinstate the exemption clauses, now that the Children and Social Work Bill has reached the Commons. Writing in Community Care, Timpson said he planned to reinstate “a much altered and improved set of clauses”.

No further detail was provided at this afternoon’s Second Reading debate on the Bill, though Nick Gibb MP, Minister for School Standards, told MPs the Government had “reviewed and substantially revised the clauses”.

The news was met with strong opposition in the Commons. Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who was Children’s Minister between 2010 and 2012, praised “the good work of the House of Lords” in removing the exemption clauses and said:

“a child needs protection wherever he or she may be in the country. We cannot have a competition between different areas on ways of looking after vulnerable children, some of which will not work and some of which might. Every child needs the protection of the law as set out by Parliament, and it should not be subject to a postcode lottery, as is convenient for certain local authorities.”

Labour Shadow Children’s Minister, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, also commended the work of Peers and highlighted the recent LaingBuisson report published by the Department for Education:

“I wish to congratulate peers on defeating the Government and forcing them to remove dangerous clauses from the Bill that would pave the way for privatisation of children’s social care. It is scandalous that these clauses are soon to reappear at Committee stage.

“The Government have denied time and again that the opt-out clauses were about privatisation, yet late last week, two years after it was written and after an inexplicable delay in responding to freedom of information requests, the Department for Education released a report, … which sets out how children’s social care can be moved out of local authority control – a report which states that independent contractors have said that they are willing to play the long game and wait for councils to hand over the majority, if not all, of their children’s social care services after they have developed their experience in children and families social work.”

Read the full debate here.

Peers succeed in their defence of children’s rights

8 November 2016

Clause 29 has been defeated in the Lords by 32 votes. Lord Ramsbotham’s amendment to leave out the controversial clause was supported by 245 Peers, and 213 Peers backed the Government.

Together for Children members’ reactions to the brilliant news are set out below.

Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39 children’s rights charity, said:

“Today’s vote is an incredibly strong affirmation of children’s rights and the unique role Parliament has in creating, revising and strengthening children’s law.

“The fundamental flaw with Clause 29 was that it allowed highly vulnerable children to have different legal protections on the arbitrary basis of where they happen to live. Peers have determined this to be unacceptable.

“We hope the Government will now listen and respond to the huge opposition its plans have provoked. The very worst response to this defeat would be for Ministers to simply reinsert the Clause when the Bill enters the Commons.”

John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF, said:

“The Lords have made it clear that the fundamental rights of children and families to the equal application of the law wherever they live is not to be tampered with. Where the law is thought not to be working in the best interests of children, then Parliament and Parliament alone can only introduce new law or amend existing law. It has taken generations to firmly establish this core principle and one vote to remind us just how vital it actually is.”

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said:

“Our child protection laws are the result of a century of learning, public debate and parliamentary scrutiny – but, with no research or proper consultation, this Government has decided they are dispensable.

“Well done to the Lords for doing the Government’s job, listening to the concerns of social workers and campaigners, and standing up for children’s rights. If the Prime Minister really wants a country that works for everyone, she must now prove it by scrapping this dangerous and undemocratic plan once and for all.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“Ill-conceived government plans to remove statutory duties protecting children should never have been put forward.

“Social workers recognised the danger of removing decades of child protection law, it’s a pity ministers didn’t bother to ask them about the risks posed by the proposals.

“The Lords have seen sense and voted against removing essential protection for children.”

A spokesperson for youth homelessness charity Depaul UK said:

“We are delighted the Government was defeated today in the Lords. The essential safeguarding provided by the Children Act must be fully protected for the sake of the most vulnerable in society. Maintaining every local authority’s duties to children who are at risk is the very foundation of our safeguarding system.”

Martha Cover, children law barrister and Co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, said:

“The House of Lords has pulled us back from the brink of a dangerous Bill today.

“Local authorities already have wide powers to put their houses in order. They can and do innovate and reduce red tape and bureaucracy within their own departments. Although this is the ostensible reason given for the need to undermine the legal child protection framework, none of the examples given so far as to how the exemptions might be used are about red tape and bureaucracy. They are in fact about reducing the time that social workers spend talking to children and getting to know them. This is what social workers do, and what they want to do more of. The answer is simple: reduce their case loads. They are also about undermining the position of independent reviewing officers still further. It will come as no surprise to child care lawyers that the great majority of front line social workers and IROs do not support the exemption clauses. They know that if these clauses are enacted, they will open the legal gateway for local authorities to reduce or dispense with their duties to children in need.”

Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London and a former director of social services, said:

“Surely now the new Secretary of State will be advised and recognise that she has inherited poorly drafted legislation which threatens the rights of children and potentially puts to one side the responsibilities of statutory services to help families and children. It is time for reflection and a re-think. It would be sensible to withdraw this widely-criticised and opposed Bill. The new Secretary of State deserves the opportunity to consult and re-construct rather than battling on with what would be discredited, incoherent legislation covered in the sticking plasters of enforced patchy amendments.”

Jacki Rothwell, Chair of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, said:

“Many very vulnerable children will not know what the House of Lords has done today to safeguard them from further harm but it will impact on their futures. Now is the time for the government to work with those on the frontline, including NAIRO members, to innovate in ways which improve the lives of vulnerable children without denying them hard won rights to protection from harm.”

Brigid Featherstone, Co-President of Association of Professors of Social Work, said:

“The contributions in the House of Lords today highlight the importance of the Government engaging in meaningful consultation across the sector to capture the evidence and wisdom that is out here in relation to promoting good practice. Ethics, evidence and human rights must be at the heart of practice in such a consequential area as promoting and safeguarding the welfare of children. The proposals in the Bill were lacking in all three respects but we now have an important opportunity to work together to get things right.”

Ross Little, Chair, National Association for Youth Justice, said:

“We are very pleased with the decision by the House of Lords to challenge the Government on their plans to allow councils to opt out of their legal responsibilities to the most vulnerable children in our society. The plans put forward by the Government were ill-thought-out, poorly explained and potentially very damaging. We congratulate the work of Article 39 and Lord Ramsbotham in winning the vote in the Lords to delete Clause 29. We hope that the clause does not re-appear at a later stage in the process.”

Anne Neale from Legal Action for Women said:

“We are delighted that the Lords have backed Lord Ramsbotham’s amendment and refused to allow local councils to opt out of their statutory child protection and welfare duties, which we believe would have opened the way for even greater privatisation of children’s services.

“We must now start campaigning to ensure that MPs take the lead from Lords when the Bill goes to the Commons and don’t try to reinstate this dangerous clause which has been widely condemned and now roundly defeated.”

Kim Sparrow from Single Mothers Self Defence said:

“We welcome the Lords’ defeat of this attack on children’s rights. A number of mothers in our network wrote, phoned and lobbied Lords in person to make their opposition felt. As we told the Lords, this Bill is being debated as the benefit cap hits home: 116,000 of the poorest families may no longer be able to pay their rent and 500,000 children may be impoverished. No one knows how many children will then be taken into care or adopted as their parents are accused of ‘neglect’ for no longer being able to keep a roof over their heads and keep them warm! The law must properly protect and support children, including within their families.”

Public opposition grows to ‘radical’ changes to child welfare and protection laws

7 November 2016

  • Lords set to vote on Tuesday on legal changes that could put children at risk
  • 43 organisations come together to defend legal protection for vulnerable children, spanning 80 years
  • More than 101,000 people join campaign to oppose changes

More than 101,000 people have signed a 38 Degrees petition against controversial changes to the law relating to children’s care, protection and support. The changes will be voted on for the first time in the House of Lords tomorrow, November 8.

The proposed changes to the Children and Social Work Bill will allow individual councils to be excused from their legal duties to vulnerable children and care leavers for up to six years.

Examples revealed to date, showing how legal opt outs could work, include children in long-term foster care losing their social workers, ‘relaxing’ the assessment process for care placements for vulnerable children and removing the duty to appoint an independent social worker to every child in care, to check their rights are upheld.

This part of the Bill has attracted wide opposition from social workers, children’s rights campaigners and lawyers.

There was no Government consultation on the Bill and last week UNISON reported that 69% of social workers fear these clauses could lead to more children being placed at risk.

Former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, has tabled amendments to delete the clauses, and has backing from Lord Watson (Labour Peer leading on the Bill), Lord Warner (former career civil servant and social services director) and Lord Low (lifelong campaigner for the rights of disabled people).

Carolyne Willow, Director of children’s rights charity Article 39 and qualified as a social worker in 1988, said: “Not a shred of evidence has been offered by the Government to make the case for this radical legislation. We have not been able to find any similar legal opt outs in children’s social care systems in other European countries. Legal obligations to children in dire need of care, protection and support have built up over 80 years. They are far too precious to be sacrificed to this ill-thought out and dangerous experiment.”

The 38 Degrees campaign, set up by Carolyne on behalf of Together for Children, to protect the rights of vulnerable children and care leavers can be found here.

Commenting on the proposed amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, leading experts commented:

Author Jenny Molloy, who has written three books about her time in care and is Patron of the British Association for Social Workers in England, said: “I find it incomprehensible that councils would be allowed to opt out of their legal duties to children and young people. I know from direct experience how crucial the law is for children going through very tough times. This is an attack on the most vulnerable children’s rights.”

David Graham, National Director of The Care Leavers Association, added: “If councils lose legal obligations to children and young people, we’re worried this could make it easier for social care services to be run by the private sector. We want taxpayers’ money to go to children and young people who are in desperate need, not to shareholders.”

Ann Haigh, who has been a social worker for 38 years and is Chair of Nagalro, the organisation for guardians and other social workers who advise courts about children’s welfare, said: “If this legislation goes ahead, Nagalro foresees a patchwork of different provisions in force partly suspended and fully suspended across the country, leading to a fog of confusion in which vulnerable children will simply be lost.”

Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London and a former director of social services, said: “The proposed legislation would allow one politician, with limited Parliamentary oversight, to override the rights of children to care and protection and cancel the responsibilities of agencies providing services to help children and families. This sets the clock back to the 1930s and beyond and is extreme and exceptional. It also potentially opens up child protection and children’s care to government-preferred contractors such as G4S  and Serco. It is rightly being widely resisted.”

Peter Saunders, the founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, has spent decades fighting for justice for survivors of institutional abuse, asked: “How can we possibly be looking at removing legal obligations, when we know how vulnerable children reliant on social care services are? We have a major abuse inquiry in process about the devastating failure of institutions to protect children’s rights in the past. We should be making the rights of children stronger, not taking them away because they happen to live in a particular area.”

Martha Cover, children law barrister and Co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, stated: “The Government seems prepared to ignore the voice of the child on the application of any local authority who says it wants to ‘innovate’. The examples given so far of how the exemptions might be used involve removing duties to children in care having a social worker who visits them in their foster home, and having six monthly meetings chaired by an independent reviewing officer. These functions are nothing to do with red tape or over-regulation; they are about talking to children and seeing how they are.

“Here are two cases from the care courts. A 13-year-old girl is worried that her foster father has started to comment on her figure and clothes and has come into the bathroom when she has been in the shower. It is a ‘stable placement’ in that she has been there for over a year. A teenage boy with learning difficulties and a speech impediment is not allowed to leave his bedroom in his foster placement after 9pm and an alarm goes off if he tries to open the door. He is verbally abused by his carers and threatened that if he complains to his social worker he will be sent away from the placement and separated from his younger sibling. This was outwardly a stable placement.

“These young people needed their social worker to visit them every few weeks, to develop a degree of trust, and to speak to them alone about their concerns. No evidence has been provided by government that undermining the framework of duties to children will improve the service given to children, and the amount of time social workers are able to spend with them. It is quite the reverse. Were it not for the legal framework, these and other children in similarly desperate situations would have had no one to tell.”

John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF, has been a qualified social worker for 45 years. He said: “This is experimenting with the rights of children and young people who can least afford for things to go wrong. If the Government believes the law is getting in the way of helping children and young people, it should commission independent research, driven by well-established ethical principles similar to those used when trialling medical interventions. Above all, it must directly  consult with those who rely on children’s social care services and the professionals that provide those services. When the evidence is clear and the law needs to be changed, then Parliament should ensure that it applies to all children wherever they live.”

Jacki Rothwell, Chair of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, added: “The Government says not every child looked after by local authorities needs an independent reviewing officer. But these posts were created in order to hold local authorities to account and protect the human rights of children. How can it be right to allow local authorities to dispense with this independent scrutiny and be excused from legislation passed by Parliament to uphold the rights of very vulnerable children?”

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “The Prime Minister tells us she wants a country that works for everyone – but making children’s rights dependent on their postcode makes a mockery of her promise.

“Our child protection laws are the result of almost a century of learning, public debate, listening to families and parliamentary scrutiny. They provide vital support for the most vulnerable young people and families in our communities. But with no research or consultation, this Government has decided they can be dispensed with at a stroke of the education minister’s pen.

“When an overwhelming majority of social workers tell you your proposal will put more children at risk, alarm bells should be ringing. We urge Lords to speak up for those children and vote against this dangerous and undemocratic plan.”

Laura Townshend, Director at 38 Degrees, added: “The huge response to this campaign proves that public opinion is dead set against these dangerous changes to child protection laws. The 101,000 of us who’ve signed this petition are sending a clear message to Lords: voting to relax the laws that protect vulnerable children is the last thing they should do.”

Notes

1. The Children and Social Work Bill entered the Lords in May 2016. This is the first time the exemption clauses will be subject to a Parliamentary vote.
2. Clauses 29 to 33 of the Bill allow statutory duties in primary and secondary legislation relating to children’s social care to be exempted or modified for two periods of three years each.
3. Individual councils will be able to seek exemptions. The Bill also allows exemptions to be imposed on local authorities by individuals appointed by Government, and by the Secretary of State herself.
4. Regulations making exemptions to law in a particular area will be considered by MPs and Peers, prior to implementation. However, statutory instruments are very rarely voted down and Parliamentarians will be unable to amend the orders.
5. There is no duty in the Bill to consult local children, young people and families. The Children’s Commissioner and Ofsted’s Chief Inspector are to be the only two permanent members of an expert panel (other individuals may be asked their views on a case-by-case basis), which the Secretary of State must consult before putting exemptions before Parliament.
6. UNISON surveyed 2,858 social workers between 17 August and 9 September 2016. They were asked “Should councils be able to exempt themselves from children’s social care legislation in order to try and achieve better outcomes for service users?” More than two-thirds (69%) of social workers said no, councils should not be able to exempt themselves; 10% said yes; and 22% didn’t know. 69% of social workers said they believe exemptions will lead to more children being placed at risk (only 8% said exemptions would not lead to more risk). The report was published on 2 November.

Social workers reject exemptions to statutory duties

2 November 2016

UNISON has published a report today which shows social workers overwhelmingly reject exemptions to statutory duties, as proposed in the Children and Social Work Bill. UNISON urges the Government to abandon the exemptions clauses.

“Abandon the dangerous and controversial elements of the Bill which allow local authorities to exempt themselves from important statutory duties towards children.”

UNISON What about the children? report

2,858 social workers were surveyed between 17 August and 9 September 2016. They were asked “Should councils be able to exempt themselves from children’s social care legislation in order to try and achieve better outcomes for service users?”

More than two-thirds (69%) of social workers said no, councils should not be able to exempt themselves; just 10% said yes; and 22% didn’t know.

69% of social workers said they believe exemptions will lead to more children being placed at risk (only 8% said exemptions would not lead to more risk).

When asked to rank priorities in social work, exemptions gained the least support:

  • Investing more in social work services (ranking 6.91)
  • Dealing with caseload levels (6.55)
  • Improving pay and conditions (5.19)
  • Improving levels of supervision (5.09)
  • Reducing a reliance on agency workers (4.63)
  • Introduce a new government controlled regulator to replace HCPC (2.76)
  • Allowing councils to set up independent social work trusts to run social work functions (2.76)
  • Allowing councils to exempt themselves from statutory duties (2.53)

Read the report and UNISON statement here.

Online petition passes 100,000

28 October 2016

Together for Children’s petition with 38 Degrees passed 100,000 signatures shortly after midnight last night! The petition has been online for less than 14 days. This shows the strength of opposition to the exemption clauses.

See our petition here.

Vote on exemption clauses delayed until 8 November

18 October 2016

Peers reached Clause 28 in today’s debate on the Children and Social Work Bill. The exemption clauses are 29 to 33, so they will be considered at the second day of Report Stage, on 8 November.

Even though Peers did not get to debate the exemption clauses, there were some important statements.

The Earl of Listowel (crossbencher) urged the Minister to withdraw Clause 29 because it could “roll back significant child protection legislation from the past” and “something as important as that needs more time for consultation”.

On whether exemptions from legal obligations might be connected to children’s social care services moving outside council control, Lord Warner said the Government needs “to come clean” on plans.

Profit-making in children’s social care was also debated briefly, in anticipation of a fuller discussion next month.

A report about moving children’s social care services out of local authorities has never been published. Several freedom of information requests have been refused. Lord Watson said: “It would be helpful if we could have it published before we return for day 2 of Report”.

Read the full debates:

3.14pm – 7.29pm
8.29pm – 9.29pm

Independent Children’s Homes Association firmly defends the rights of vulnerable children

14 October 2016

The Independent Children’s Homes Association, which is the voice of more than 1,000 children’s homes, opposes any reduction in the legal protection afforded to the children its members look after. In response to the news that Hampshire local authority is considering seeking one or more exemptions to its legal duties to appoint qualified and experienced social workers to scrutinise how well they are meeting their obligations to looked after children, and to take action to defend those rights when necessary, the Association’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Stanley,  says:

“The Independent Children’s Homes Association opposes any threat to the existence of the role of independent reviewing officer (IRO) as currently defined. We agree with the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers that such a move poses a serious diminution of children’s rights.”

The Association calls for strengthening the IRO role, so the post holders have “true independence to challenge decisions about young people’s care”. It warns that the exemption clauses risk both the loss of rights and an “ethical compass”. The postcode lottery which would prevail through allowing individual local authorities to opt out of their legal duties for a period of up to six years would cast “a shadow over the current national approach to the delivery of children’s care”, Stanley says.

The practical implications of implementing  legal exemptions in different parts of the country would result in “limitless and senseless difference”:

“Children’s homes will often work across the multiple authorities who have responsibility for the children in our care at any one time. We see it possible for there to be each local authority with different interpretations, thresholds and entitlements. This would create limitless and senseless difference. For other agencies, such as children’s homes, to have to accommodate this difference, we see as an ineffective and inefficient use of valuable knowledge, time, skill and experience.”

The Association says it will not go along with children in particular areas losing safeguards and protections and has written to Hampshire and the Department for Education defending children’s rights. Stanley reports:

“To experiment with the rights of the children we care for or the statutory duties, checks and balances provided by the essential roles of social workers and IROs, would shake the foundations on which our services are run. Consistency of the statutory functions and laws that underpin our work is essential.

…We have written to Hampshire and the DfE to state our expectation that all placements will involve IROs, as they are currently defined. To ensure this we will insist on the inclusion of IRO involvement in all contracts regarding current and future placements with Hampshire, or any other local authority. ICHA members will not accept non-social work qualified staff carrying out duties in place of IROs, or a cut in the frequency of six monthly children’s reviews.”

Amendments tabled to remove threat to children’s rights

11 October 2016

Together for Children is delighted that Lord Ramsbotham (crossbencher), Lord Watson (Labour) and Lord Warner (crossbencher) have tabled amendments to remove the exemption clauses from the Children and Social Work Bill.

The debate is expected to take place on 18 October.

This is an excellent development which takes us a step closer to achieving our goal of preserving local authority social care duties towards children and care leavers.

Social work body passes unanimous motion to lobby against Clause 29

10 October 2016

We are delighted to report that the following resolution was approved unanimously by Nagalro members, at their annual general meeting today:

“Nagalro objects to Clause 29 of The Children and Social Work Bill and encourages its members to lobby against this proposal in England as Clause 29 could remove significant legal safeguards, localised accountability and scrutiny of services to vulnerable people especially children.”

Nagalro is a professional association for social work practitioners who work in the children and families field and represent children in public and private court proceedings.

Liverpool City Council passes motion condemning Children and Social Work Bill

9 October 2016

Together for Children is delighted to be informed of the unanimous motion passed by Liverpool City Council on 20 July 2016.

The motion calls on the Government to remove the clauses of the Children and Social Work Bill that enable exemptions to “those sections of the Children Act 1989 that make obligations to children looked after for assessment, planning and social work intervention”.

Several other Acts of Parliament, including the Care Act 2014, are threatened by the Children and Social Work Bill. However, this robust defence of children’s rights under the Children Act 1989 is extremely welcome.

The Children Act 1989 was introduced following extensive deliberation and consideration by lawyers, social workers, families and young people reliant on social care services. During its first parliamentary debate, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said this:

“The Bill in my view represents the most comprehensive and far reaching reform of child law which has come before Parliament in living memory.”

The Act has been revised over the past 25 years, not least to add vital duties towards young people leaving care and to entitle children in the care of the state to an advocate who can support them to express themselves and make complaints. It continues to be regarded as one of the finest pieces of children’s law, in this country and internationally.

Liverpool City Council is to be highly commended for standing up for the Children Act 1989 and the rights it gives to vulnerable children, young people and families. Let’s hope many other councils will take a similarly impressive stance.

Mounting opposition to the exemption clauses in Children and Social Work Bill

7 October 2016

A week after the campaign launched, opposition to the exemption clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill has snowballed.

The number of organisations and experts in children’s social care opposing the exemption clauses has tripled, with 30 organisations – many of them membership organisations – and more than 100 individuals now part of the Together for Children campaign. Significant numbers of parents, grandparents and carers of disabled children have joined in the past week, fearing the axing of hard-fought for entitlements.

Days ago, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler, revealed in a Twitter exchange that Hampshire, Leeds and Lincolnshire councils have “detailed plans” for using exemptions, should the legislation pass next year. Freedom of Information requests were subsequently made by social worker Allan Norman:

Hampshire County Council
Leeds City Council
Lincolnshire County Council

Experts join forces to ward off radical deregulation in children’s social care

29 September 2016

Forty organisations and experts in children’s social care have joined forces to oppose dangerous plans to let councils exempt themselves from almost any duty imposed by children’s legislation passed in the last 80 years.

Proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill, to be debated in the Lords again next month, will allow individual councils to be excused from legal duties towards vulnerable children, young people and families, in order to test whether deregulation should be given the green light nationally.

Every Act of Parliament since 1933 concerned with children’s social care is affected, alongside numerous regulations. This will affect all of the social care services children receive from local authorities, including child protection, family support, the care system and support to care leavers, and services for disabled children.

This would expose children to a postcode lottery of protection. During the testing phase, which could last up to six years, a child in Newcastle could have very different entitlements to protection and support from a child in Northampton or Norwich.

The group, calling itself ‘Together for Children’, has launched a website by the same name.

Jenny Molloy, author and care leaver, says children’s rights and protection should be strengthened, not placed under attack:

“Messing with laws that Parliament has passed to protect children could be taking away children’s first sight of freedom from abuse. We should be making rights and protection stronger so children in care have great childhoods and futures they can really look forward to.”

David Graham, National Director of The Care Leavers’ Association, says his organisation fears the loss of hard-won rights for young people leaving care:

“Local authorities are required by law to ensure every care leaver has an adviser to give them advice and support and help with accessing services like health care. These young people are often entirely alone, and will have faced enormous challenges in their earlier lives. If this Bill passes, there would be nothing to stop the duty to appoint advisers being removed in the name of innovation. Any reduction in duties towards care leavers would put very vulnerable young people even more at risk than they presently are.”

All except one section of the Children Act 1989 is threatened by Clauses 29 to 33 of the Bill. Emeritus Professor Jane Tunstill, previously a social worker, remembers the great care taken to ensure that the 1989 Act worked for children and families. She says:

“The 1989 Children Act remains a highly respected piece of legislation, here and around the world. Throughout its passage through parliament, politicians maintained an open and respectful culture of engagement and consultation with service user groups, providers and the social work workforce across the statutory and voluntary child care sector, all of which contributed to the Act’s lasting credibility. It provides an excellent case study of how all governments can embrace an evidence-based and consultative approach to ensure legislative change will facilitate better outcomes for children.”  

John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF, has been a qualified social worker for 45 years. He speaks for many in welcoming innovation but explains this must not be to the detriment of children:

“Innovation in practice must be a part of the services we provide to vulnerable children. But this must be based on evidence and a rigorous responsibility ‘to do no harm’. The English law has focused over generations on a recognition of the vulnerability of children and the responsibility of the State to both protect them and enhance their welfare. It is a legacy that was hard fought to establish and challenging to implement.  

“Giving local authorities and the Secretary of State the power to create a postcode lottery of local provision without the scrutiny of Parliament exercising its sovereign power to legislate is highly risky and may be damaging.  Innovation in other areas of service provision is based on sound ethical principles, a prime responsibility to protect those being ‘tested’ and solid scrutiny and evidence. The clauses as currently drafted are not sufficient in any of these respects.”

Peter Saunders, the founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, has spent decades seeking justice for survivors of institutional abuse. He questions the timing of these radical changes, and criticises the lack of consultation with those who depend on social care services:

“There has been no consultation with abuse survivors and no information about which laws are to be tampered with. We have a major inquiry taking place into catastrophic failures in the care of children and yet, incredibly, this Bill will enable the weakening of safeguards and protection.”

Children’s lawyers are among those voicing deep concerns. Martha Cover, Child Law barrister since 1988 and Debbie Singleton, Senior Lawyer, NYAS, say:

“The Children Act has, for a quarter of a century, provided a vital system of safeguards for society’s most vulnerable individuals and accountability for professionals and agencies. These proposals risk the piecemeal dismantling of those safeguards. All systems are dynamic and the present system needs to be improved, but this cannot be achieved simply by allowing individual agencies to opt out of those parts that they find inconvenient but which are vital for public confidence in the system.”

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, fears the Bill will jeopardise vital support for children in and leaving prison. She explains:

“In our experience the law is all too often viewed by children in the criminal justice system as an oppressive force and the reason that they are in prison in the first place.

“However, the law can also be an empowering tool to assert rights and ensure that proper services are delivered. This is something that our lawyers do daily.

“By calling the authorities to account and demanding they comply with their legal duties, we have been able to ensure that hundreds of children and young people in and leaving prison get the help they need to make a fresh start.”

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, adds:

“In one fell swoop, these proposals would let councils opt out of 80 years of children’s care legislation. The essential protections those laws enshrine are the product of decades of learning, public consultation, parliamentary scrutiny and, sometimes, the tragic consequences of failure by the state to keep children safe from harm. With no consultation, this Government has decided those protections are dispensable.

“This regime would undermine fundamental principles of democracy and rule of law and expose the most vulnerable young people in our society to the risk of mistreatment, abuse and neglect. If this Government truly wants to ‘fight injustices’, as our new Prime Minister has said, it should begin by protecting children and removing this provision from the Bill.”

Notes

  1. The Children and Social Work Bill entered the Lords in May 2016. It is due to be debated next on 18 October.
  2. Clauses 29 to 33 of the Bill allow statutory duties in primary and secondary legislation relating to children’s social care to be exempted or modified for two periods of three years each.
  3. Individual councils will be able to seek exemptions. The Bill also allows exemptions to be imposed on local authorities by individuals appointed by Government, and by the Secretary of State herself.
  4. Regulations making exemptions to law in a particular area will be considered by MPs and Peers, prior to implementation. However, statutory instruments are very rarely voted down and Parliamentarians will be unable to amend orders.