Councils seek urgent assurances on controversial 'mythbuster' guidance

By Neil Puffett

| 24 September 2018

Local authorities have called on the Department for Education to urgently clarify the legality of controversial guidance amid claims it encourages councils to renege on statutory child protection obligations.

Annetoinette Bramble said councils would like assurances from government that suggestions in "mythbuster" guidance are legal. Picture: LGA

The document, Children's Social Care statutory Guidance Myth Busting, which appears on the government's social care innovation website, highlights a number of elements of statutory guidance that "act as a barrier to good practice and outcomes for children and families".

But earlier this month campaign group Together for Children, which last year successfully fought government proposals to allow councils to apply for exemptions from statutory guidance, warned that parts of the mythbuster are incorrect and risk harming vulnerable children and those caring for them by encouraging councils to act in contravention of their legal duties.

Writing in the October edition of CYP Now, Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said that while councils support the principle of allowing experienced professionals the flexibility to test new approaches, it would like assurances from government that any councils following the guidance are acting within the law.

"This guidance provides helpful advice on where councils are able to do things differently if they feel this is in the best interests of children," she said.

"But we agree that DfE must urgently clarify the questions that have been raised around the accuracy of elements of this advice, so that councils and their residents can be confident that any action taken is fully in line with current legislation and guidance."

The DfE has previously said the document does not seek to change the law, but to clarify misunderstood elements of statutory guidance, and has the backing of local authority children's services leaders.

Specific concerns raised by Together for Children are that the mythbuster document indicates that councils could appoint one social worker for both foster carers and a child in a long-term placement rather than have separate roles. The campaigners are also concerned that the document indicates that personal advisers for care leavers could also take on the role of supervising social worker.

Bramble said it is important that Ofsted and the wider local government sector monitors any new practice that emerges as a result of the mythbuster document, "both to ensure that it is to the benefit of children and families and also to share any learning as widely as possible".

"Where flexibility produces positive outcomes, we must be ready to capture that learning and support others to do likewise," she said.

"But where new approaches are not effective, it is vital that we are able to act quickly to identify and address any issues."

The DfE declined to comment on the LGA's concerns. A spokeswoman said the points had already been addressed in a letter from children's minister Nadhim Zahawi in response to Together for Children. She added that the term "mythbusting" relates to guidance, and not legislation.

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