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Legislation, Legislation, Legislation…

RE Children and Social Work Bill [Lords]  in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 10th January 2017…

I received an email alert to a relevant debate in a Lords Committee two days ago (10th Jan), and specifically to the contribution of shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck.

I have to admit that I am not really up to speed with the proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill (It is hard enough keeping up to speed with the Care Act and the Children and Families Act, whilst still remembering the good old Mental Capacity Act), but Emma Lewell-Buck clearly had major concerns:

“The Minister is asking us to approve a power that threatens vast swathes of hard-fought legislation that was carefully crafted in the proper way, rooted in robust evidence and consultation with the sector, children and families, often in the wake of tragedies and failures that should not have occurred, and that had cross-party commitment to better protect and provide for children and young people.

Of course, not all children’s social care legislation has evolved because things have gone desperately wrong. Many statutory requirements in the care system, in leaving care and in support for families have emerged through creative practice and innovation, but I fear that after the Bill, innovation will be forever associated with the removal of legal protection. That does a terrible disservice to all the excellent projects, pilots and world-leading practice that have developed in children’s social care across the decades.

The Minister is asking us to hand the Secretary of State unprecedented power to dispense with primary and secondary legislation without any prior Green or White Paper consultation, any public evidence sessions, as there should have been for such a radical change, or any evidence that any of the endangered legislation works against children’s welfare. Once an exemption or modification to the law has been authorised, the trials could last up to six years—that is a long time for a child reliant on the state for his or her care and protection.

Our most vulnerable children are being used as guinea pigs. That is no exaggeration. Look at the transcript of the Lords debate that led to the first incarnation of these awful clauses being kicked out. These so-called innovation clauses were described several times by noble Lords, even those on the Government side, as an experiment. Do we really want to give consent to such high-risk experiments when local authorities are facing extreme funding pressures and increased demand? Nagalro warned in its evidence to the Committee: “Anything which helps spread the budget further is going to be greeted” with great enthusiasm in County Hall. It also warned that the Bill risks introducing perverse incentives into a system already buckling under great strain….”

I investigated the transcript of the Lords Committee debate, but be warned it is a tough (and long) read.

Thankfully, I have just seen that Community Care online has just posted a news item on the debate, the bill, and the issues raised – which reinforces my impression that this proposed legislation is significant, and  which, if and when enacted, might have serious implications for children with a learning disability and their parents. (I promise to keep you posted on developments).

The Community Care news item  ‘Controversial exemption powers reinstated to social work bill’ is a lot more readable  than any transcripts.

The article concludes : Writing in Community Care yesterday, Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, called on the government to scrap the clauses, and said: “Conducting a constitutional experiment with the most vulnerable in our society can never be an acceptable way forward.”

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