The Department for Education has today updated its guidance for local authorities on children’s social care to reflect the changes made in the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.
The guidance offers some helpful clarity around the circumstances in which these new ‘flexibilities’ can be used – only when absolutely necessary. It also provides some expectations for local authorities and services around the evidence required to justify use of the emergency regulations and the level at which approval is needed.
We’re pleased to see confirmation that the principle of no child leaving care during this period if not in their interests also extends to those due to leave Staying Put arrangements - this partially fulfils one of the asks within our coronavirus briefing published last week. It’s also helpful to see clearer expectations around maintaining contact/family time for children in care and the considerations involved in determining whether a child in care should be expected to attend school.
However, we remain concerned about the lack of detail in how the use and impact of these changes will be monitored by government. The guidance only refers to an expectation that Ofsted will “take note” of their use and refer to available records when needed.
We still believe that revoking the emergency regulations is in the best interests of children in care.
At the minimum, we believe the government should make a commitment to routinely collect and publish data about when and in which local authorities the emergency regulations are used. They must take an active role alongside Ofsted and regularly listen to local authorities, care providers and the voluntary sector about how the changes are impacting on the delivery of care, and commit to immediately withdrawing regulations if they are found to put children at risk of harm.
In addition, it’s essential that clarity is offered on when these emergency powers will cease, particularly given the inconsistent messages around this to date. The guidance suggests that the amendments will remain in place “only for so long as needed”, but how this need is determined and by whom remains unclear. This is particularly important given that the impacts and measures associated with coronavirus are likely to continue for some time, potentially beyond the regulations’ initial expiration date of 25 September 2020.
Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive, Become:
“The updated guidance is helpful in outlining the exceptional circumstances when these emergency regulations can be used. However, we remain of the view that these regulations are not necessary nor in children’s best interests and should be withdrawn.
“If the regulations are not withdrawn, the government must at the very least outline its plans for assessing the impact on young people’s lives and give a clear answer on exactly when these rights will be returned to children in care.”