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Children and Social Work Bill has been published

Government aims to 'tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child'

In the Queen's Speech the government announced its intention to introduce a Children and Social Work Bill. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 19 May and will have a second reading on 14 June 2016. The Bill has now been published. It is here. The Explanatory Notes are here. You can follow progress of the Bill from this page

The Queen's Speech briefing note, published by the government, says that:

"A Bill will be introduced to ensure that children can be adopted by new families without delay, improve the standard of social work and opportunities for young people in care in England."

In March 2016 the Department for Education published Adoption: a vision for change, setting out a four-year plan for reforming the adoption system. For an article on Family Law Week considering the proposals, click here

According to the briefing note, the purpose of the Bill is to

According to the briefing note, the main benefits of the Bill will be

This is said to deliver on the Conservative Party's manifesto pledge to raise the quality of children's social work and to protect children.

The main elements of the Bill will be:

Looked-after children and care leavers 

Adoption 

Regulation of social workers 

Children's safeguarding

The provisions concerning adoption decisions apply to both England and Wales. The reminder of the Bill covers devolved matters and applies to England only.

In support of its proposals the government sets out (what it terms) key facts: 

Response to the proposals

Association of Directors of Children's Services
Responding to the adoption measures announced in the Queen's Speech, Dave Hill, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said:

"The government's ongoing commitment to finding the most vulnerable children in care a stable and loving home is welcome. It is, however, important to recognise that adoption is not the only placement option and isn't right for every single child or sibling group. Their best interests must always remain at the heart of our decision-making.

"The idea that the care system is a bad place to end up is in danger of becoming the accepted truth. This lazy generalisation does a disservice to the children and young people in care, the staff that work so hard to keep children and young people safe, and the foster carers who look after them. Changing this misconception is a priority for the Association and we stand ready to assist in the creation of a new narrative."

British Association of Social Workers
Dr Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of BASW, said:

"In order to create the 'cultural change' Government is seeking, it has to reach out to the profession. Government reforms need to be driven by social worker knowledge and skills. The further development of social work and public confidence in social workers can only be achieved through the profession shaping change and leading on its own excellent practice. No profession can be created by government; it must be owned and developed from evidence, ethics and the reality of day to day practice. As the professional body representing social work across the UK, BASW and its members expect to be fully part of policy proposals and reform.

"The focus of any reform from government must be to support the profession to own and lead change for the benefit of those we serve. We already have excellent social workers in the profession and their views must be taken on board. Training courses are producing well skilled and ambitious new social workers. The junior doctors dispute should be used an example of both the need to involve professionals in management of change and also of potential impact to both services and people if communication breaks down.

"The profession needs to have a serious discussion about reform and we want to see a change in approach from the Government. We want to see an end to unsubstantiated criticism of social workers and their professionalism in the media which harms morale and ultimately harms services. We need an honest conversation with Government about their plans for reform. There is currently a lot of discussion in social care about 'co-production' as a key concept in the development of public services, when services work together with people who use services and carers to harness the expertise of all. We need a similar approach between Government and professionals such as social workers. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with ministers to start these discussions."

Children's Commissioner for England
Anne Longfield said:

"I very much welcome the announcement in the Queen's Speech of new legislation to improve the lives and outcomes of children in care and care leavers.

"Although many children have positive experiences of the care system, it cannot be right that others continue to be failed by it. We have a duty and responsibility to nurture and protect children in care as we would our own children.

"The many children in care I meet and listen to consistently talk about their aspirations for the future, their need for better support when they leave care, and greater involvement in decisions that affect them. I look forward to promoting their views and experiences to help ensure that their voice is heard as the Bill progresses through parliament."

CoramBAAF
Director of Policy, Research and Development, John Simmonds, said:

"There could be no more important decision for a child than leaving the care of their parents and being placed in foster care.   Despite the continuing focus and prominence of adoption in public policy, about 75% of children are placed in foster care and it is a public service that needs to be recognised for the major contribution that it makes to the lives of a vulnerable group of children across the age range.

"However, 'being in care' is often associated with failure – poor outcomes for children across the board and comparable to the worst of what we see in young people – failure in education, employment, high rates of criminal activity, poor physical and mental health, homelessness.  While the seriousness of these issues must not be ignored, the overall picture is more complex. Generally looked after children do much better than similar groups of children who are returned from care to their parents.  The urgent question is what will improve where we currently are with the current system.  That has been a long standing question and one to which there are still limited answers.

"The one thing we do know is that at the centre of most children's development and outcomes is 'good' parenting and a stable, secure and loving family life. Whether these placements are expected to be short, medium or long term, this is the critical issue, and the provision of support and resources by the state are essential in ensuring that foster parents are fully equipped to provide this.

"The looked-after system must centre on foster carers as being the core driver in its delivery of what children need, and support them accordingly.  Early decisions need to made about establishing the right family for every child in the long term, and all these families need the same level of resources.  There could be no more important question to be addressed in public policy and everything that then flows from this."


Local Government Association
Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"Many of the provisions outlined in this Bill have the potential to support the good work already taking place in local authorities across the country, and could make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children and young people.

"Adoption is not right for every child, but neither the local authority nor the court should shy away from making that decision when it is in the child's best interests. Finding loving homes for children is one of the most important jobs that councils do, with local authorities at the heart of efforts to find permanent homes for some of our most vulnerable young people. The Government's determination to drive longer term decision making through the court system is encouraging, as the recent decline in the number of children adopted from care will only be tackled through close working between social workers and the judiciary.

"However, we must take care that the ongoing focus on adoption does not distract from the importance of other types of long and short-term care for vulnerable children. Local and national government must continue to work towards improving the experience of all children in care – whether they are being looked after by friends or family, in foster care or a special guardianship arrangement, or in residential care.

"It is important to be clear that many children and young people have a very positive experience of the care system. Research shows that the love and support of foster families, kinship carers or residential care workers can help children in a range of ways, improving their progress in school and helping them to overcome some of the trauma they may have experienced earlier in their lives.

"There is room for improvement though. Proposals to provide clear, consistent support to young people leaving care until the age of 25 is supported by councils, but this must be fully funded.

"In addition, improving regulation of social workers will increase public confidence in the profession and a sense of pride in the many highly-talented social workers. However we need to ensure this is not overly bureaucratic and doesn't deter new recruits or existing staff from remaining in social work. This is also an excellent opportunity to align the new system with DBS record checks so time is not wasted on repeating lengthy checks that can take months to complete."

20/5/16
(Amended 23/5/16)