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Become: Relaxing local authority duties risks safety of vulnerable children and young people

Emergency regulations that relax local authorities’ statutory duties to vulnerable children and young people risk reducing the level of care and support they can expect to receive. 

The regulations, which come into force today, disregard key rights and protections for children and young people. We are hugely concerned about the vagueness and ambiguity of the changes to these rights and protections that have been built up over the last 30 years. The statutory instrument passing the regulations explains: 

“The instrument will make temporary changes to provide additional flexibility for local authorities, providers and services to meet statutory duties whilst maintaining appropriate safeguards. These are low risk changes to ease administrative and procedural duties and are required to ensure stability of children’s social care during the outbreak.” 

“The instrument places an obligation on the Secretary of State to keep the amendments under review, and it will remain in force until 25 September 2020, which coincides with the date that the Coronavirus Act 2020 requires parliamentary renewal.” 

The most significant changes include: 

  • Social workers are no longer required to visit children in care at least once in every six weeks. These visits can now be done by phone or video call “as soon as reasonably is practicable”. 
  • Children in care are no longer entitled to have their care plan independently reviewed at least every six months. These reviews allow children’s views to inform their own care planning and allow issues to be addressed before they escalate. 
  • Children living in children’s homes are no longer required to have staff with the relevant experience, knowledge, skills and supervision deliver their care. This denies the right to good quality care for young people living in children’s homes. 
  • Fostering and adoption panels, which determine the suitability of potential new foster carers and adoptive parents, are no longer required. The removal of this vital process risks the loss of those with lived experience of care being able to contribute to decisions made within fostering and adoption services. 
  • Regulations around regular independent visits to children’s homes and Ofsted inspections have been relaxed. Instead, residential providers are only expected to use “reasonable endeavours” to make sure this happens digitally. A report from an independent person can offer important recent understanding of how safe and suitable a children’s home may be when decisions about where children should live are made. 

Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive, Become: “We are deeply concerned about the implications of these emergency changes to the rights of vulnerable children in care and care leavers. While we understand the pressures local authorities are currently under, the vagueness of these changes risks the safety of those who need protecting the most. 

“We are also astonished  that the government believes the impact of its amendments are limited given the greater risks vulnerable children and young people could now face. We urge the government to rethink this approach and provide far more clarity. They must also routinely assess and publish the impact of any changes over the next six months. Where the regulations are found to be placing children and young people at risk of harm, we expect the government to reconsider its approach as soon as possible.”