The so-called innovation clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill, which would allow local authorities to exempt themselves from fundamental duties and legal responsibilities towards vulnerable children, have been revised as promised by the government after an aggressive backlash from child welfare professionals and campaigners.
Whilst the government still plans to go ahead with these sections in the Bill, they have made the following concessions which include the list below, of core legal duties that can’t be set aside:
- Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 – the duty to provide appropriate services to children in need.
- Section 20 – the duty to provide accommodation for children who appear to require it.
- Section 22 – the duty to safeguard and promote welfare of looked-after children.
- Section 47 – the duty to make enquiries and take action to safeguard or promote welfare of children at risk.
- Section 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004 – the duty to make arrangements for promoting co-operation to improve wellbeing of children.
Community Care also outlines several other amendments which the government hopes will prevent further opposition to the clauses:
- Powers allowing the education secretary to impose ‘exemptions’ on services under government intervention will be scrapped. Only councils will be allowed to apply for exemptions and “if they do not wish to, that is the end of the matter”.
- References to the exemption clauses being used for “efficiencies” will be removed to “make clear that the power is about better outcomes for children”.
- Expectations on who local authorities must consult when applying for the power will be widened. This will include the workforce, affected children and voluntary sector partners.
- The government will consult on statutory guidance to accompany the power, including seeking views on what councils should need to demonstrate in order to apply for trials and how trials should be monitored. An annual report on how exemptions are used will also be published to improve transparency.
There are several reasons why none of these exemptions are legitimate or should even be entertained by the child welfare sector:
- Innovation and better outcomes don’t come about by removing duties and responsibilities, but through better training, recruitment and team leadership. Crucially, they also depend upon an appropriate level of resources, properly allocated for policies and projects which will make the system better for children and families
- We already know what policies and projects make a child protection system work – outstanding professional conduct and knowledge, individual care and attention from the same people throughout the life of the support and schemes which focus on keeping families together wherever possible. We don’t need ‘space to innovate’ at the expense of families’ basic human rights
- The current proposals will only increase delay and poor levels of service – requiring councils to demonstrate why innovation proposals they put forward should be allowed to run is going to cause havoc inside the system. Who will have the time to do this, and why would anyone put forward a proposal under the existing pressures faced by the system if not for financial reasons? It’s an ethical and systemic crisis just waiting to happen
- “Efficiencies” will be masked as “better outcomes for children” in order to cut costs under the innovation clauses
There are more observations to make on this but these are just a few thoughts. If you feel as strongly as Researching Reform does, don’t forget to say your piece to the Public Bill Committee . The Committee will be taking evidence next week, so if you have something to say, whether for or against this Bill and its innovation clauses, the Committee urges you to do so as soon as possible.