Category: Children and Social Work Bill

Campaign success – Children and Social Work Act 2017

Royal Assent was granted to the Children and Social Work Bill late yesterday, which means it is now an Act of Parliament.

Our major campaign to protect the rights of vulnerable children and young people succeeded!

The whole of Chapter 3, comprising eight clauses, was removed from the legislation after sustained opposition by Article 39 and many others. The clauses would have allowed local authorities to opt-out of their children’s social care duties contained in legislation from 1933 onwards. Many parliamentarians strongly opposed the clauses, including Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck MP and former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP.

Article 39 was a founder member of the Together for Children campaign, which fought these dangerous clauses until they were finally removed last month.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“The exemption clauses were an audacious attack on the rights of vulnerable children and young people. In one Act of Parliament Ministers, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families and a handful of supporters sought an unprecedented and far-reaching power for councils to opt-out of their children’s social care duties.

“Had 53 organisations and many concerned individuals not persisted in defending children’s rights, we could be today facing the dismantling of universal legal protection for vulnerable children and young people. Instead, we can feel enormous relief and joy that these vital legal obligations remain intact.”

No reduction in use of prison custody for children

Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board over the Easter break show 9 out of 10 children in custody continue to be held in prison environments.

Data for 2016/17 shows 89% of children remanded or held in custody after sentencing were placed in either young offender institutions (YOIs) or secure training centres (STCs). This is the same proportion as last year. Both types of accommodation are modelled on adult prisons.

Of 863 children detained under criminal justice orders in February 2017, 609 were held in YOIs and 155 in STCs. Just 99 children were held in child-centred secure children’s homes run by local authorites or the voluntary sector.

Back in February, the Youth Custody Improvement Board recommended “a very clearly different approach to the current YOIs” and commented on the “appalling situation at Medway” STC – a reference to serious child abuse uncovered by BBC Panorama in the then G4S-run child prison.

Along with many other organisations, Article 39 believes children should only ever be detained in childcare environments, where staff are fully trained and supported to provide therapeutic care to the very small number who cannot be safely supported in the community. We believe the secure children’s home model provides the best basis from which to develop world-standard specialist secure provision.

We are deeply disappointed that the Government recently used the Children and Social Work Bill to change the law to allow children from England and Wales to be detained on welfare grounds in Scotland. We strongly lobbied against this change because it arose from dwindling provision rather than a strategic analysis of children’s needs and best interests. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, looked after children detained on welfare grounds in Scotland will lose their right to consent to placements outside England and Wales. Independent reviews have also been removed from these children.

Reliance on resources in Scotland for ‘welfare detention’ will inevitably threaten the viability of secure children’s homes generally. There has already been a 21% reduction in secure accommodation places in England across the past six years, from 293 in 2010 to 232 in 2016. Conversely, the Scottish Government has stated that the detention of children from England and Wales in Scotland will assist the financial viability of provision there, noting “The withdrawal of English placements would lead to a loss of income to one or more of the Scottish units, with the possibility it would force at least one provider into an early and unplanned closure”.

MPs urged to challenge changes to secure accommodation

Article 39 continues to challenge changes pushed through House of Commons Committee stage, which will allow looked after children from England to be detained in secure accommodation in Scotland on welfare grounds.

The changes to the Children Act 1989 were tabled by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP in December 2016, as amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill. There was no public consultation.

These legal changes arise from cases which went to the High Court last year. Cumbria and Blackpool local authorities sought authorisation to detain looked after children in secure accommodation in Scotland due to lack of specialist provision here.

Between 2010 and 2016, there was a 21% reduction in places in secure accommodation in England, with a loss of 61 places.

Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck has tabled an amendment to the Bill, which will bring an end to the Children Act 1989 changes in 2019. This would give time for consultation and a proper examination of the impact on children’s rights and welfare, as well as developing provision close to children’s homes, education and local services. The amendment will be discussed in the House of Commons tomorrow (7 March).

Read our joint briefing with the British Association of Social Workers, Children England and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers.

CHILDREN’S LEGAL PROTECTION IS SAFE

Children and Young People Now magazine reported earlier today that it understands Ministers will back amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, to delete the exemption clauses. This has now been confirmed: the Education Secretary Justice Greening has added her name to the Shadow Children’s Minister’s amendments to LEAVE OUT the exemption clauses (32-39).

Article 39 fought the clauses since the Bill was published at the end of May 2016. With others, we established the Together for Children campaign, which has 52 organisations and over 160 individual experts behind it. The campaign’s online petition attracted over 108,000 signatures.

We were delighted when Peers removed the clauses back in November, and had confidence they would once again defend children’s rights when the Bill returned after the Commons.

Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck has led the parliamentary attack on the clauses in the Commons, with former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton also robustly defending universal legal protection for vulnerable children and young people.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“This is extraordinarily excellent news for children and young people across the country. Their legal protection will now remain intact, wherever they live and whoever looks after them. What a fight it has been to defend these fundamental rights, but how wonderful it is that Ministers have done right by children and young people.”

The Bill reaches its next parliamentary stage on Tuesday, 7 March, when the exemption clauses will be removed once and for all.

EXEMPTION CLAUSES ARE “A SERIOUS DANGER”

PROFESSOR EILEEN MUNRO SAYS EXEMPTION CLAUSES ARE
“A SERIOUS DANGER”

The London School of Economics professor whose work has been consistently cited by Ministers as the inspiration for controversial clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill has deserted the policy.

The clauses allow individual councils to opt out of their legal duties to help and protect vulnerable children and young people, including those looked after by the state, disabled children and at risk children living with their families. They are fierecely opposed by social workers, academics, lawyers and children’s rights campaigners.

In an email yesterday (9 February) to Article 39’s Director, Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck and former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, Professor Eileen Munro said:

“I have been reading the debates in Hansard and the submissions … I’ve also been meeting with some of those who oppose the Bill and I have reached the conclusion that the power to have exemption from primary and secondary legislation creates more dangers than the benefits it might produce … While I understand and respect the motivation of the current Government, there is a serious danger in having such wide-reaching powers in statute.  Some future Secretary of State might use them in ways that are completely contrary to the current intentions and consequently subvert the will of Parliament.”

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“The death knell has finally sounded for this appalling attack on children’s law and Parliamentary sovereignty. From the start, Ministers claimed their dangerous plan to test out the removal of legal protection from vulnerable children and young people had the backing of Professor Munro. Well now she has walked away.

“Peers rejected these clauses; more than 50 organisations oppose them; social workers and others with long careers helping children reject them; and more than 107,000 members of the public have signed a petition against them. Nobody wants our child protection and welfare system to lose its legal infrastructure. Ministers must do the decent thing for children and young people and withdraw these hated clauses.”

Professor Munro set out in her email an alternative approach for the Government, which would be to build a more rigorous system around exemptions from statutory guidance. She describes this as “a less ambitious but still useful reform”.

Yesterday, the Together for Children campaign – formed to fight the exemption clauses – released a report showing the Committee of MPs which reinstated the exemption clauses last month ignored grave warnings from experts.

Government’s reliance on Professor Munro during the passage of the Bill

  • At Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, in June 2016, Lord Nash said: “There is a consensus stemming back to the landmark Munro Review of Child Protection that over-regulation gets in the way of good social work practice”.
  • The Department for Education’s policy document, called Putting Children First and published in July, mentioned Professor Munro eight times and included a supportive quote: “I welcome the introduction of the power to innovate set out in the Children and Social Work Bill. This is a critical part of the journey set out in my Independent Review of Child Protection towards a child welfare system that reflects the complexity and diversity of children’s needs. Trusting professionals to use their judgement rather than be forced to follow unnecessary legal rules will help ensure children get the help they need, when they need it. Testing innovation in a controlled way to establish the consequences of the change, before any national roll out, is a sensible and proportionate way forward”.
  • In Grand Committee in the House of Lords, also in July, Lord Nash quoted Profesor Munro’s support: “I welcome the introduction of the power to innovate set out in the Children and Social Work Bill. This is a critical part of the journey set out in my independent review of child protection towards a child welfare system that reflects the complexity and diversity of children’s needs”.
  • The DfE policy statement issued in October said: “There is a consensus stemming from the Munro Review that over-regulation gets in the way of good social work practice and prevents social workers and other staff from putting children’s needs and wishes first” and included a supportive quote from the professor.
  • A letter from the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler, said in October: “When Eileen Munro said we need to do the right thing, rather than doing things right, everyone agreed. When she said that the system was overly-bureaucratic which lead to social workers not having enough time to do the direct work they are trained for and which has a real impact on children’s lives, everyone agreed. If we don’t support this power we can no longer complain that the system is too bureaucratic and that we are hamstrung by legislation”.
  • On 8 November, before Peers voted out the exemption clauses, Lord Nash once again cited Professor Munro: “The Munro review in 2011 showed us that overregulation can get in the way of good social work practice and prevent social workers putting children’s needs and wishes first. Too often legislation not only sets out what local authorities need to do to protect children but gives a significant level of detail about how they should do it”.
  • The second paragraph of a fact sheet issued by the DfE in December stated: “The Munro Review showed us that over-regulation can take time and resources away from social workers, and can stop them from putting children’s needs and wishes first”. The accompanying letter from Children’s Minister Edward Timpson said: “Eileen Munro showed us in 2011 how over regulation can get in the way of social workers putting children first and the local authorities who support this power have frequently echoed this point to me”.
  • On 10 January, in a heated exchange with the Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck over whether the professor really supported the clauses, Edward Timpson said: “I am sorry that the hon. Lady takes that view, because I was under the impression that the review into child protection carried out by Professor Eileen Munro in 2011 was widely welcomed and respected across the political spectrum. That is exactly what is reflected in the many Hansard reports I have read from across the House, in which hon. Members all lauded a report that finally got down to the nuts and bolts of why we need to have a system that, as the tri-borough rightly expressed in relation to this clause, gets social workers out working directly with families and away from being in front of a computer at their desks. The reason why I keep quoting Eileen Munro is that she was the person charged by Government to provide an independent review, which has been considered, scrutinised and generally approved by this House as the way to go. I am often held to account for how many of Eileen Munro’s recommendations we have implemented, so I place credence in what she has to say about what we are trying to do, because she has already considered it and come up with a solution for Government, in her independent capacity. She says: ‘I welcome the introduction of the power to innovate set out in the Children and Social Work Bill. This is a critical part of the journey set out in my Independent Review of Child Protection towards a child welfare system that reflects the complexity and diversity of children’s needs’”.
  • In an answer to a Parliamentary Question on 30 January, Edward Timpson included Professor Eileen Munro on the list of 15 individuals and organisations who support the exemption clauses.