UK Government drops ‘exemptions’ to statutory child protection

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The UK government has dropped its proposed ‘exemption clause’ in new social care legislation, following pressure from opponents of the plans. Adrian Voce reports.

Provisions contained in the Children and Social Work Bill, which is currently going through parliament, were intended to give councils the ability “to test different ways of working” within children’s services by freeing them from “requirements imposed by children’s social care legislation”.

But the proposals have been highly divisive, with a number of children’s sector bodies and influential individuals  warning that they represented a risk to vulnerable children. The government has now agreed to support opposition amendments, introduced by Labour’s shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck, to remove the proposals from the bill.

A statement issued by the Department for Education confirmed the move saying:  “The Children and Social Work Bill makes huge steps forward in providing vulnerable children with protection to keep them safe, as well as the support they need as they prepare for adulthood. It will support and strengthen the social work profession, giving it a dedicated regulator, committed to raising professional standards.

“New approaches”

“We have listened to concerns raised about introducing the power to innovate, which would have meant councils could test new approaches in order to support the country’s most vulnerable children. In recognition of this we are not taking forward that particular aspect of the bill.‎”

Campaigners and children’s professionals welcomed the announcement. British Association of Social Workers (BASW) chief executive Ruth Allen said: “BASW strongly opposed the exemption clauses from day one. Members were strongly against these clauses and almost 1,000 lobbied their MPs.

“It was clear from the start that these divisive and potentially dangerous clauses were not needed for innovation in children’s services. The next step for this government has to be about engaging with the profession to secure real improvements that would enhance rather than dilute children’s rights and promote good social work practice in all services.”

“Excellent news”

The U-turn comes just weeks after social work professor Eileen Munro, who had been cited by government as a supporter of the plans, spoke out against them, describing them as ‘potentially dangerous’.

There was some support for the plans from within the local government sector, however, with Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services agreeing with the government that exemptions from children’s social care legislation could help councils to better support young people.

Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, a member of the Together for Children coalition  said:

“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.”

Adrian Voce

Photo: Greens MPs

Author: Adrian Voce

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