Social work bill gives government power to ‘exempt’ children’s services from legal duties

The government will get powers to free council-run children’s services from operating under some children’s social care legislation, under a new bill.

Measures in the Children and Social Work Bill allow the government to exempt any local authority from any “requirement imposed by [the] children’s social care legislation” if they request it.

The measures also allow the government to “modify” the way the statutory duties apply to a local authority.

The powers allow government to grant services freedom from:

The bill allows for the freedoms to apply for up to three years and for them to be subsequently extended once, for up to another three years.

The government will also have the power to make “consequential modifications of children’s social care legislation”. This means the government could change legislation as a result of the freedoms given to authorities if they feel the change has been beneficial.

The purpose of the changes is to allow councils to “test different ways of working” to achieve better outcomes or the “same outcomes more efficiently,” the bill said.

Intervention in services

As well as councils who request freedoms, the bill allows the government to free from regulations local authorities where they have made an intervention. In these circumstances the request for freedoms would have to be made by a specified person, i.e a commissioner.

Before asking the government for exemption from legislation councils must consider its Local Safeguarding Children Board partners “as it considers appropriate”. Before awarding exemptions the government must consult the children’s commissioner and Ofsted.

Both David Cameron and education secretary Nicky Morgan have previously mentioned giving high-performing children’s services ‘academy-style freedoms’ to innovate.

Nine ‘Partners In Practice’ local authorities have been identified over the past six months to lead the development of these freedoms and discuss with the Department for Education what they could do differently. One of the Partners in Practice, Durham, announced this week they had withdrawn from the programme after getting a ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted rating.

Care leaver proposals

The bill also includes provisions for strengthening the rights of care leavers and social work of children in care proceedings.

Social workers will have to take into account the impact of harm previously suffered, or likely to suffer, for children involved in care proceedings as part of their permanency assessments and plans.

The current and futures needs of the child – and the way in which the long-term plan for the child meets their needs – will also have to be considered in assessing the best permanence plan for a child.

The bill also gives prospective adopters whom the child is placed with will be given the same rights as birth parents in care proceedings.

Every local authority will also be required to make care leavers aware of services that can help them in a ‘local offer’, similar to that required of local authorities for children with special educational needs after the Children and Families Act 2014.

Care leavers will be guaranteed a personal adviser until the age of 25. Schools will have to appoint individuals who hold responsibility for helping care leavers, adopted children and children in special guardianship orders achieve positive educational outcomes.

A new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel will also be established by the secretary of state. The job of the panel will be to identify serious child safeguarding cases in England which raise issues that are complex or of national importance, and arrange for those cases to be reviewed where they consider it necessary.

The bill also includes a range of potential changes to the way social workers are regulated, including the possibility of direct government regulation. Read about those changes here.