Children and Social Work Bill [HL] 99: analysis for Commons 2nd Reading

Source: Commons Briefing papers CBP-7800
Authors: Tim Jarrett; Hannah Cromarty; Nerys Roberts; Douglas Pyper; Rachael Harker; Paul Bolton

This paper analyses the Children and Social Work [HL] ahead of Commons Second Reading due on 5 December 2016. The Bill concerns children in care and care leavers, safeguarding children arrangements, and the regulation of social workers.

Jump to full report: briefing-paper

‘Support for looked after and previously looked after children (Clauses 1 to 3)

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.

Education of looked after and previously looked after children (Clauses 4 to 7)

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 children adopted outside England were covered by the measures.

Adoption (Clauses 8 and 9)

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’.

Child safeguarding, and proper performance (Clauses 11 to 30)

‘Clause 11 extends the Secretary of State’s existing power to secure “proper performance” to combined authorities.

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 existing Local Safeguarding Children Boards 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)’.

Pre-employment protection of whistleblowers (Clause 31)

‘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 31 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.

Regulation of Social Workers (Clauses 33 to 57)

Social work regulation in England
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. The work of HCPC is overseen by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA).

Proposal for a new social work regulator
On 14 January 2016, the Government announced its intention to establish a social work specific regulatory body to improve standards in the social work profession, as part of wider social care reform. Provisions were subsequently included in Part 2 of the Children and Social Work Bill [HL] 2016-17 to enable the establishment of a new social work regulatory regime.

On 27 June 2016, following Second Reading, the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health (DH) published a joint Policy Statement on Regulating Social Workers, outlining the Bill’s provisions in greater detail’.

Concerns over Part 2 of the Bill as introduced in the House of Lords

‘Some provisions of Part 2 of the Bill, as introduced in the House of Lords, proved to be controversial. Members of the Lords and stakeholders raised a number of concerns, including: whether regulatory change is needed at this time; the impact of further change on the profession; the Bill’s reliance on delegated legislation; the social work regulator’s independence from government; the distinction between regulation and improvement; the costs of setting up and running a new social work regulator; the lack of consultation with the social work sector; and social work policy fragmentation.

The Government’s updated Policy Statement and amendments to the Bill at Report Stage
In light of the concerns raised about Part 2, DfE and DH published a Social Work Regulatory Reform – Update to Policy Statement on 1 November 2016. The update accompanied a number of Government amendments to revise its initial proposal.

The main Government amendments, agreed at Report Stage, were to: 

  • place greater detail about the new social work regulator in primary legislation;
  • establish the regulator as a separate, independent Non-Departmental Public Body overseen by the PSA; 
  • focus the regulator’s role on professional regulation rather than professional development; and 
  • require the regulator to consult with the social work sector, and seek Ministerial approval, when setting professional, education and training standards. 
  • The Government has also: 
  • set up an Advisory Group, consisting of key social work sector representatives, to work through the detail of the proposal; and 
  • committed to fund the regulator’s set-up costs and to contribute up to £16 million towards the regulator’s running costs over the rest of the 2015 Parliament. Part 2 as introduced in the House of Commons’

Part 2 of the Bill, as presented to the House of Commons, differs significantly from the version initially presented to the House of Lords; more than 90 amendments were made.

‘Part 2 creates a new independent regulator of social workers in England called Social Work England. The overarching objective of the regulator in exercising its functions is the protection of the public. The regulator will be required to: keep a register of social workers in England; set social work professional, education and training standards; determine an individual social worker’s fitness to practice; and cooperate with the other social work regulators in the UK.

The Bill enables the Secretary of State, by way of Regulations, to make certain provisions regarding the regulation of social work. Regulations under Part 2 are subject to consultation and the affirmative resolution procedure. The Bill also allows for the responsibility to approve courses for approved mental health professionals and best interest assessors to transfer to the new regulator’.

LGA briefing: Children and Social Work Bill

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Second Reading, House of Commons, 5 December 2016 Key messages

‘Looked-after children (Part 1, Chapter 1): The LGA supports the Bill’s strong focus on support for children in care, including provisions to clarify corporate parenting principles, create a clear local offer for care leavers and extend personal adviser support for all care leavers up until the age of 25. However, new burdens must be fully funded to ensure that resources are not diverted from other services for vulnerable children, which are already considerably over-stretched.

The provisions outlined in clauses 8 and 9 reflect existing good practice, ensuring that courts and social workers focus on children’s long-term interests when planning care. The broader emphasis on permanence is particularly welcome, allowing placement decisions to be firmly based on the needs of individual children and young people

Child safeguarding (Part 1, Chapter 2): The recent Wood Review recommends that the current system of serious case reviews be replaced by a more flexible programme of local learning reviews supported by a national panel to consider more serious cases. The LGA supports this general approach, but we are concerned that the Panel outlined in the Bill risks politicising the serious case review process.
Different ways of working: Freedom to innovate can be a powerful tool in improving outcomes for children and young people, and we strongly support the principle of allowing councils to shape provision around the needs of children and young people rather than the constraints of inflexible legislation.

The powers set out by the Government should only be used where this is clearly shown to be in best interests of children. In light of the additional safeguards introduced by the Government in earlier stages of the Bill, we welcome the ability for councils to test the new ways of working and do not agree with the removal of the provisions altogether. However, we are pleased that provisions have been removed that extended these freedoms to third parties where a council is in intervention.

Regulation of social workers (Part 2): The LGA previously raised concerns that the new social work regulator would not have the guaranteed independence necessary to balance the needs of the public; requirements set by Government; the interests of the profession; and the organisational requirements of employers who will have overall management responsibilities. We are pleased the Government has addressed these concerns, but much will depend on how the regulator operates in practice’.

Dowload the full briefing: LGA briefing – Children and Social Work Bill, Second Reading, House of Commons, Monday 5 December 2016

The Spring Consortium – photo-credit-praveenbenk-via-foter-com-cc-byInnovation Programme targeted opportunities: How to get involved

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Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. Newsletter 5: March 2016

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Interim Learning Report for the Innovation Programme

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