An open letter to Children and Families Under Secretary Nadhim Zahawi published on 4th September, and signed by 50 leading child welfare and social work organisations in the UK, urges the government to withdraw several statements it has made in a guide on the care system.

The letter was posted on child rights charity, Article 39’s website and has been sent to Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler; National Director for Social Care, Ofsted, Yvette Stanley and HM Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey.

The guide, which was published on the government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme microsite, in June, features several interpretations and recommendations on current statutory guidance with a view to improving good practice and outcomes for families and children, which the government says have been checked by lawyers and policy makers.

Social work bodies, child welfare charities, child rights focused law firms and criminal justice organisations who signed the letter, are concerned that the guide is inconsistent with the law relating to the care system and that it exposes more councils to judicial review cases.

The organisations involved have highlighted seven questions thrown up by the guide, which they say have been incorrectly answered by the government:

  1. Can we have one social worker for children and foster carers when a child is in a stable, long term placement?
  2. Can a Personal Adviser take on the role of the supervising social worker for foster carers, where the young person is staying put?
  3. Can supervising social workers visit less frequently in stable and long term placements?
  4. Can social workers visit less frequently than the normal six weekly basis in stable and long term placements?
  5. Do we always have to conduct an independent return home interview?
  6. Can we integrate the Youth Offending Team assessments within a looked after child remand assessment?
  7. Does an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) have to chair Child Protection conferences where their looked after children’s situation is being assessed?

Significantly, much of the criticism seems to stem around what appears to be a government sanctioned reduction in professional involvement, which would directly impact the engagement and interests of many of the bodies and individuals who have signed the open letter. The letter’s closing remarks also don’t inspire much confidence that this latest development is about the welfare of children involved, with some references to how the guide might impact children poorly as a result of the government’s recommendations in the body of the letter, but no emphasis at all on child welfare in its concluding paragraph.

The full list of signatories is added below:

The Aire Centre
Article 39
Association of Independent Visitors and Consultants to Child Care Services
Association of Lawyers for Children
Association of Professors of Social Work
Association of Youth Offending Team Managers
British Association of Social Workers England
The Care Leavers’ Association
Children England
Child Rights International Network
Coram Children’s Legal Centre
Coram Voice
Family Action
The Fostering Network
Howard League for Penal Reform
Independent Children’s Homes Association
Just for Kids Law
The MAC Project (Central England Law Centre and the Astraea Project)
Nagalro, Professional Association of Children’s Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers
National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)
National Association for Youth Justice
National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers
National IRO Managers Partnership
NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service)
Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation (The Potato Group)
Refugee Council
Social Workers Union
Social Workers Without Borders
Southwark Law Centre

Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England 2010-2015
Sir Al Aynsley-Green, first Children’s Commissioner for England 2005-10; now visiting Professor of Advocacy for Children and Childhood, Nottingham Trent University
Wendy Bannerman, Director of Right Resolution CIC
Jay Barlow, Napo National Vice-Chair
Liz Davies Emeritus Professor of Social Work, London Metropolitan University
Anna Gupta, Professor of Social Work, Royal Holloway University of London
Pam Hibbert OBE
Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London
John Kemmis, former Chief Executive Voice, NAIRO Patron and Article 39 Expert Panel member
Dr Mark Kerr, Managing Partner, The Centre for Outcomes of Care
Jenny Molloy, Author, Adviser and Trainer
David Palmer, Lecturer in Criminal Justice Services, University of Northampton
Peter Saunders, Founder NAPAC
Mike Stein, Emeritus Professor, University of York
June Thoburn CBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia
Dr Nigel Thomas, Professor Emeritus of Childhood and Youth, University of Central Lancashire
Judith Timms OBE, Founder and Trustee of the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and a Vice President of the Family Mediators Association
Jane Tunstill, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Royal Holloway, London University