Today in the House of Commons, Children’s Minister Vicky Ford failed to address serious concerns raised by Become, the national charity for children in care and care leavers, about the impact of emergency regulations introduced at the start of the coronavirus crisis on the safety and stability of vulnerable young people.
During the debate on Statutory Instrument 445 – the emergency regulations that swiftly removed various rights for children in care in April without scrutiny – the Children’s Minister failed to provide any meaningful clarity on how they’re being used by local authorities and how their impact is being monitored.
The changes mean children in care could get less support at a time when they need it the most. Social workers are no longer required to visit children in care at least once every six weeks and can do so by phone or video call “as soon as reasonably is practicable”. Children in care are also no longer entitled to have their care plan independently reviewed at least every six months.
Become has called for SI445 to be withdrawn so that local authorities must continue to meet their statutory obligations. Failing that, the absolute minimum the charity wants to see is the government committing to collecting, monitoring and publishing information about the use of the regulations. It argues that this would provide stronger oversight to identify how SI445 is being used and what actions are needed in response to any regional variations in use.
The Children’s Minister was unable to provide much needed clarity on which local authorities – or how many – are using the new regulations. Become is calling for robust monitoring to ensure strong transparency and accountability, but more importantly, ensure that timely learning around current pressures on the system and solutions reaches social care providers and others supporting children in care.
Become is supporting twice the amount of young people as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The charity’s helpline has been inundated with calls about the extreme challenges young care-experienced people are facing and the impact the crisis is having on other processes with the children’s social care system. Children in care need extra support during this time not less.
Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive of Become, national charity for children in care and young care leavers said:
“As other lockdown restrictions start to be lifted, it’s a real concern that the government intends to retain the dilution of these important protections for our most vulnerable young people. Its’s vital they tell us more about what monitoring is taking place so that we can understand the impact they’re having on the safety and wellbeing of young people across the country."
You can view the briefing we sent to MPs ahead of the debate here.