The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/445) came into force on 24 April 2020. They provide the temporary changes to local authority duties in relation to children’s services and adoption under various regulations.
For the full list of changes, read at source: Legislation.gov.uk: Adoption and Children Act (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/445).
Summary of key changes
- Social worker visits to children in care – can now be via a phone call but clear 6-weekly duty removed
- Six-monthly independent reviews of a child’s care no longer mandatory
- Adoptions to “proceed swiftly”
- Relaxation of notification duties in respect of criminal offences (fostering)
- Placement plans no longer necessary for kinship care
- Care standard weakened in children’s homes
- Twice-yearly Ofsted inspections of children’s homes no longer required
- Monthly independent visits and reports on children’s homes no longer mandatory
- ‘Emergency’ foster care placements to last for nearly 6 months
- Short breaks can last for 75 days without care planning safeguards
- Local authority action in relation to children who are privately fostered becomes “reasonably practicable”
- Adoption agencies no longer required to establish adoption panels, and fostering panels become optional
- Suitability of foster carers can be assessed in the absence of health information and criminal records checks (still have to be obtained though not clear when)
- “Reasonably practicable” caveat added to timings of independent review of children’s social care complaints
- Children’s homes a place of detention for children potentially infected with COVID-19
- Fostering services no longer required to report infectious disease to Ofsted
Key changes relevant to the work of IROs are summarised below.
Review panels into complaints only have to respond to complainants ‘as soon as reasonably practical’ rather than to statutory timescales (Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure Regulations 18, 19 and 20)
Looked after children reviews
Changes the requirement for care plan reviews to take place every six months – it is now ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ after that if six months is missed. This also applies to children in short breaks care. They should still be at least every six months where ‘reasonably practicable’ (Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulation 33 and 48).
This amends the requirements to complete placement plans once a child has been placed within five or ten days (depending on circumstances) to as soon as reasonably practicable. This also applies to children on remand. (Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 9, 19 and 47C)
‘Connect Persons’ & temporary approval as foster carer
Temporary approval as a foster carer has been expanded to allow any person, not only relatives, friends and connected persons, to be approved. An emergency placement with an approved foster carer can now last 24 weeks, rather than 6 days, even if that foster carer is e.g. not approved to look after that many children. The length of the temporary approval has also been extended from 16 weeks to 24 weeks. It also allows for a child to be placed outside their local area with a carer, even if this carer is not ‘connected’ to them, without approval by a nominated officer (Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulation 8, 11 & 23)
The definition of a short-break ‘placement’ has been altered. Children can stay with short breaks carers for up to 75 days in one go, rather than 17 days in one go (the 75 day per year total remains the same). (Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulation 48).
Visits to a child
The Amendment Regulations take into account the social distancing rules, allowing for visits to a child to take place by telephone, video link or other electronic means. The timescales for visits have been relaxed to as soon as is ‘reasonably practicable’ Where (a social worker) is unable to visit (a child) within the timescales set out in this regulation the responsible authority must ensure that the child is visited ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable thereafter.’ (Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulation 11(5) & 28)
Contact with a child in a children’s home
Where a children’s home is unable to provide a safe private meeting area for a child to have contact with their parents, a private telephone or video link should be provided for contact (The Children’s Homes Regulation 22).
This sets out a ‘reasonable endeavour’ to make sure children achieve the education standard in Children’s Homes(The Children’s Homes Regulation 8).
Regulation 44 Visits
Independent visitors should ‘make reasonable endeavours’ to visit monthly, rather than that they have to.
Inspection of Children’s Homes
Stops the requirement for children’s homes to be inspected twice a year (Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Fees and Frequency of Inspections) (Children’s Homes etc) Regulation 27)
Parent and Baby Units
For residential family centres (such as parent and baby units) the provider must only make ‘reasonable endeavours to ensure’ that they promote and provide for the health, welfare, care, treatment and education of residents rather that that they ‘shall’ do so. Complaints can be responded to within 28 days ‘as far as reasonably practicable’ rather than a hard time limit. Also allows for the registered provider to only have to make ‘reasonable endeavours’ to visit the unit once a month (Residential Family Centres Regulation 10, 20 & 25)
Deprivation of child’s liberty for social isolation purposes
This sets out that children can be deprived of their liberty for social isolation purposes without a court order, if directed to do so by a public health officer under public health powers of the Coronavirus Act 2020 if they are symptomatic (The Children’s Homes Regulation 20).
This allows for a Local Authority to choose not to have an adoption panel approve placements for adoptions and to have the decision for whether adopters remain suitable approved by the panel. If they choose to constitute an adoption panel, only three (instead of five) panel members, of which one is an independent person, are required for it to be quorate. The requirement to refer relinquished children cases to the adoption panel is removed. However, an adoption agency has the option to continue referring these cases to their adoption panel if they wish to do so (Adoption Agencies Regulation 4, 17 and 30D and 31).
Stops the requirement for reviews when a child has either been approved or placed with adopters if this is not reasonably practicable, but an adoption order has not yet been made, unless the agency thinks there is a safeguarding issue (Adoption Agencies Regulations 36)
This removes the requirement for foster panels to be set up to approve new carers or review foster carers.