The government has announced that it would like to extend controversial amendments to regulations for children’s social care, in a new consultation published on 16th July.

The amendments, which were introduced during the COVID-19 lockdown, relax legal regulations around the processes for children’s placements and contact with birth parents.

Children’s Minister, Vicky Ford, said the amendments were “rarely used” and most frequently enacted for virtual contact and medical records, in a written statement on 14th July:

“Our monitoring data shows that the regulations are being used infrequently. Out of 128 local authorities we have spoken with in June and July, 87 have used at least one regulation, although many have only used them on a limited number of occasions and in a limited number of areas.”

A breakdown of which local authorities have taken advantage of the regulations and which regulations have been used to date are included in the consultation under Annex E.

Child welfare organisations have criticised the legal changes, which they say have removed vital safeguards for children.

Charity Article 39, has asked for a judicial review of the regulations which it says are not compatible with  primary legislation, and breach the Education Secretary’s duty to promote the safety and well-being of children in England and Wales. The application will be heard in the High Court on 27th July.

Although the government announced that the changes to children’s social care legislation would be temporary and only enacted for the lockdown period, the consultation now seeks to extend several of the amendments beyond the 25th September 2020 deadline, to 31st March, 2021.

The amendments the government would like to extend include replacing face-to-face contact with virtual contact for parents with children in care who already have contact orders, in the event of local lockdown or self-isolation.

Face-to-face contact was never removed during lockdown, but an initial lack of government guidance meant that a significant number of children were prevented by local authorities from seeing their parents in person, or at all, despite contact being able to take place with the right safety measures in place.

Another controversial amendment the government wants to extend allows adoption and fostering agencies to skip to stage two of the placement process before receiving documents like medical records for prospective carers.

The government is also hoping to extend an amendment which removes OFSTED’s minimum inspection intervals.

All other amendments would be allowed to lapse on 25th September, according to the government’s fourth proposal.

The consultation has a ‘rationale’ section which aims to explain why the government wants to extend these amendments, but no explanation is given. The document only states that additional extensions should be used “when absolutely necessary, and in response to coronavirus (COVID-19).”

The deadline for the consultation is 5th August, 2020.

You can access and complete the consultation here.

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