What we do

Article 39 fights for the rights of children living in state and privately-run institutions (children’s homes, boarding and residential schools, mental health inpatient units, prisons and immigration and military detention), a population of around 80,000 in England.

As a new charity, we are seeking funds to build a brilliant online resource which informs children and young people about their rights and how they can raise concerns and challenge mistreatment.

Meanwhile, we are getting on with promoting and defending the rights of children by:

Children and Social Work Bill

The Children and Social Work Bill was introduced into Parliament in May 2016. Clauses 29-33 (formerly 15-19) create a fast-track procedure for the removal of local authority social care duties towards vulnerable children and families, including those who are looked after and living in children's homes, secure children's homes, custody and residential schools. Article 39 is lobbying to have this power removed from the Bill. We also support the move by Peers to place the ban on profit-making in children's services functions into primary legislation. This ban is currently in regulations, and would be easy to reverse if Clause 29 passes.

Soon after the Bill was published, Article 39 identified the absence of a duty on local authorities to include the child's wishes and feelings in permanence plans, which are developed to ensure each child has a stable and secure upbringing. We are pleased to be supporting an amendment to the Bill that would require the inclusion of the child's wishes and feelings.

Medway secure training centre

On 8 August, Ofsted published a very critical inspection report on Medway secure training centre. This prompted our Director to write 'Secure training centres in numbers'


Article 39 has collected a great deal of information on Medway secure training centre, a child prison run by G4S until July 2016. It is now run by the state. In January, BBC Panorama broadcast footage of physical and emotional child abuse in the prison, obtained through undercover filming. Besides young people who had been in custody, Article 39's Director was the only individual in a non-statutory role to be interviewed by the Medway Improvement Board, established by the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, in response to the serious allegations. The Board's report was published in May. We have alerted the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment to the abuse revelations, and written to the Chair of the Medway Local Safeguarding Children Board urging him to establish a serious case review. These are statutory reviews of child deaths and incidents of serious harm where agencies have failed to work together to safeguard children.

Article 39 believes a serious case review is necessary because allegations of mistreatment stretch back to 2003, and many organisations appear to have failed to promote and safeguard the welfare of very vulnerable children. There has never been a serious case review into the systemic mistreatment of children in penal settings, though several have been undertaken following the deaths of children.

READ OUR G4S MEDWAY TIMELINE

Monitoring institutional settings 

Article 39 regularly uses the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain information on the care and treatment of children living in institutional settings. We use this information to inform our work with parliamentarians and other policy makers. We work with journalists to promote wide dissemination of information, to raise awareness and build support for positive change.

Example of our work
In May 2016, after repeat FOI requests from Article 39, the prisons minister, Andrew Selous MP, announced that the government is “considering the routine publication” of all serious injuries and warning signs data. This is the information collected centrally on incidents of prison restraint which lead to a child being unable to breathe or losing consciousness and/or suffering fractures or other serious injuries.  Such information has hitherto been kept secret. Data elicited by Article 39 was reported by Eric Allison at the Guardian newspaper, and was included in a fuller article on abuse in custody written by our Director for openDemocracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q&As: CHILDREN AND SOCIAL WORK BILL

Q What is all the controversy about?

Q For how long will duties be removed?
Q So what is the process for removing duties?
Q If Parliament has to pass the regulations, won't this act as a safeguard?
Q Why is there concern about privatisation?
Q Why have Article 39 and other organisations been opposing Clause 15?
Q Is there time to stop Clauses 29-33?

Q What is all the controversy about?
A
Clauses 29-33 of the Children and Social Work Bill introduce a fast-track procedure for the removal of local authority duties towards vulnerable children, young people and families. The Government markets the Clauses as innovation. We see them as the single biggest attack on children's legal rights in modern times. Countless children's social care requirements, developed over eight decades, are endangered. Looked after children (including those in foster care, children's homes and remanded in custody), care leavers and children being supported within their families will be affected.

If these Clauses pass, children's social care duties will, over time, vary from area to area. Where a child or young person lives will determine his or her social care rights.

Clause 29 empowers local councils, individuals sent into local authorities to improve children's services and the Education Secretary to initiate the drafting of regulations to remove social care duties towards children, young people and families in a particular area.

Clause 33 sets out the duties that can be removed. These are any children's social care provisions in the following Acts of Parliament: Children and Young Persons Act 1933; Children and Young Persons Act 1969; Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970; Mental Health Act 1983; virtually all of the Children Act 1989; Housing Act 1996; Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000; Adoption and Children Act 2002; Children Act 2004; Mental Capacity Act 2005; Children and Young Persons Act 2008; Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012; and the Care Act 2014.

In addition, requirements in secondary legislation associated with any of the above Acts of Parliament can be removed.

Q For how long will duties be removed?
A The Bill states legal requirements can be removed for three years initially, and then a further three years. Three or six years is a vast amount of time for children and young people who rely on social care services. Moreover, when a similar fast-track procedure was introduced into the education system, allowing schools and local education authorities to opt out of education law, the upper time-limit was removed after only four years.

Q So what is the process for removing duties?
A Clause 31 of the Bill requires the Education Secretary to consult the Children's Commissioner for England, Ofsted's Chief Inspector and any other person she considers appropriate before agreeing that regulations can be drafted to remove duties.

Local authorities and individuals sent by Ministers to lead improvements in children's services (usually called Children's Commissioners) will be required to consult any safeguarding partners and relevant agencies they consider appropriate. There is no duty to consult local children, young people or families.

If the Education Secretary herself initiates the fast-track removal of duties, she will not be under any duty to consult anyone working in a local area.

Once regulations have been drafted, they will be introduced into Parliament. When duties are to be removed from Acts of Parliament, the affirmative resolution procedure will be followed. This allows both Houses of Parliament - the Commons and the Lords - to debate the regulations and to pass or reject them. They are not allowed to change any aspect of the regulations. When duties are to be removed from secondary legislation, Parliament will follow the negative resolution procedure. This gives both Houses the opportunity to 'pray against' the regulations within 40 days.

Q If Parliament has to pass the regulations, won't this act as a safeguard?
A This is highly unlikely. The Hansard Society reports that Parliament has rejected just 1 in every 10,000 statutory instrument since 1965. 

Q Why is there concern about privatisation?
A After several years of censure, including inadequate ratings by Ofsted, Doncaster children's social care services were the first to stop being delivered by a local authority. Following a report from Professor Julian Le Grand, Alan Wood and Dame Moira Gibb, the Government planned for the council's children's social care services to be wholly removed from local authority control. However, the council strongly rejected this model, for a number of reasons including its statutory duties towards children, young people and families. Doncaster Children's Trust was the compromise put forward by the council, and it was set up in 2014. The council retains its statutory duties towards children and has contracted social care services from the Trust; it also directly provides some social care services to children. The legal basis for this is set out in a letter from the Government. What happened in Doncaster inevitably raises questions about whether a fast-track procedure for the removal of statutory duties will smooth the passage for children's services to be run completely apart from local authorities, including by organisations run for profit.

A ban on profit-making in children's services functions (excluding services for individual looked after children and care leavers) was introduced in 2014. However, this ban is only in regulations (secondary legislation). It would be very easy to remove if Clauses 29-33 pass.

The Government says it has no intention of lifting the ban. This could change in time, which is why Article 39 supports the amendment tabled by Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Watson and Baroness Walmsley which would enshrine the prohibition in primary legislation. The experience of G4S and Serco running secure training centres (prisons for 12 to 17 year-olds) raises very serious questions about the safeguarding risks associated with the pursuit of profit.

Q Why have Article 39 and other organisations been opposing Clause 15?
A Clause 29 used to be Clause 15! The numbering changed after amendments were made to other parts of the Bill.

Q Is there time to stop Clauses 29-33?
A YES. The Bill began its passage through Parliament in May 2016. It started in the Lords and Peers have expressed very serious concerns. In a single debate, 15 Peers raised objections to Clause 15 (as it was then). After the summer recess, Peers will debate Clauses 29-33 again. We're hoping they will vote these Clauses out of the Bill. After scrutiny and debate in the Lords, the Bill will enter the Commons. 

Contact us
if you'd like to take action to defend children's rights. Our focus is on children living in institutions. If you have concerns or questions about other aspects of children's social care, we'll try and put you in touch with relevant organisations working on the Bill. You could also contact your local MP now, to alert him/her to the threats to children's rights in the Bill.

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