Ruth Hawkins on the Government's Children and Social Work Bill

IT WAS announced in the Queen’s Speech last week that the Government plans to introduce a Children and Social Work Bill.

The Government’s proposed Bill will make changes in three main areas; the adoption process; introduce a new Care Leavers Covenant. And implement a new system for regulating social workers.

* Adoption Process There will be changes to the considerations that the courts must take into account in adoption decisions, tipping the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child and helping to give the child stability. The number of Looked After Children has been increasing steadily to almost 70,000 last year.

NAGALRO, a national association representing Children’s Guardians (court appointed guardians in care proceedings and other complex children's cases coming in front of the courts) and independent social workers, has urged caution, saying: “We are of the view that, like the curate’s egg,The proposals are good and bad in parts.

We are concerned that despite the intention to ‘strengthen families’, no more is said on this point and that there is no discussion of support for disadvantaged families despite the worrying increase in the numbers of children subject to care proceedings.”

They point to the staggering cuts happening up and down the country, including here in Oxfordshire, in support and early intervention services, worrying that “by significantly reducing early preventive work, more public money has to be spent on costly proceedings, foster care, mental health provision, adoption agencies and so forth, which potentially could be avoided by better focused spending at an earlier stage.”

They state that the intention to streamline and speed up the adoption process once the courts have concluded that is in the child’s best interests and welfare is to be welcomed, but are concerned that special guardianship and family placements appear to be viewed as in some way inferior to adoption as a permanency option, and they urge the Government to be cautious about “tinkering” with the law further on this issue.

I would agree with that caution.

The regulations for assessment of special guardians wishing to care for relatives have onlyvery recently been tightened up, and that new system needs to have an opportunity to ‘bed’ down a bit before any more changes are made.

* Care Leavers' Covenant This will be underpinned by statutory duties to make sure local authorities clearly set out the entitlements for care leavers, including housing, jobs and healthcare. Central and local government have a unique relationship with children in care and care leavers as they are their ‘corporate parents’.

They leave home at a younger age and have more abrupt transitions to adulthood than their peers.

Unlike their peers who normally remain in the family home, care leavers will often be living independently at age 18. Around 10,000 young people leave care in England each year aged between 16-18 years old.

* New System of Regulation for Social Workers A new system of regulating social workers is to be introduced by setting up a specialist regulator for the profession with a clear focus on driving improvement and introducing more demanding professional standards.