Queen's Speech: Sector welcomes Children and Social Work Bill

Neil Puffett
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The government has set out plans to reform children's social care through a Children and Social Work Bill, with the proposals being broadly well received by the sector.

Outlining the legislative agenda for the next 12 months at the state opening of parliament today, the Queen said the government intends to ensure that children can be adopted by new families without delay, as well as improving both opportunities for young people in care and the standard of social work.

The bill, which CYP Now understands will be published in draft form tomorrow, will be designed to change the considerations that courts must take into account in adoption decisions, “tipping the balance in favour of permanent adoption”, in response to recent falls in the numbers of children being adopted.

It will also introduce a new system of regulating social workers by setting up a specialist regulator for the profession with a clear focus on driving improvement and introducing more demanding professional standards.

And a new "Care Leavers Covenant", underpinned by statutory duties, will make sure local authorities set out clearly the entitlements for care leavers – including housing, jobs and healthcare.

Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England, said the Children and Social Work Bill represents a welcome improvement to the support the government provides for children in care.
 
“YMCA supports thousands of young people each year who have spent time in the care system with a safe place to stay and the guidance of caring, responsible adults.

“Many of these young people will have been through challenging circumstances and require additional help in order for them to progress.
 
“Setting out the rights of children in care and extending the age of support up to 25 is a positive step towards ensuring those in the care system are given the best chances to succeed.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said outcomes for care leavers are “significantly worse” than for those who have not grown up in care.

“The government must address the problem of children in care being uprooted and moved miles away from their communities,” he said.

“It must also make sure care leavers get priority and consistent access to mental health support to tackle the significant disadvantages faced by those growing up in care.”

Andy Elvin, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children’s Trust, said that he understands that the contents of the bill will require local authorities to present care plans that take account of the impact of the harm the child has suffered or was likely to suffer, current and future needs of the child resulting from harm, and the way in which the long-term plan would meet those needs.

“All of this is eminently sensible and in practical terms it will raise the evidential bar for all care planning,” he said.

The Queen’s Speech also outlined new laws to expand the academies programme in the poorest performing local authority areas as part of the Education for All Bill, laws to give enforcement agencies new powers to protect vulnerable people – including children as part of the Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill.

Several pieces of legislation have been packaged by government as being intended to improve life chances for the most disadvantaged. And background notes published by the Cabinet Office today reveal that the forthcoming Life Chances Strategy will set out the government’s new approach to tackling poverty and transforming the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families.

Imelda Redmond, chief executive of of 4Children said children’s centres are well placed to support all families, “from those who require universal services and light touch support to those on the edge of crisis in need of more targeted help”.

“[Children’s centres are] a trusted resource, rooted in local communities, which bring a range of services and professionals together under one roof,” she said.
 
“Today’s speech also sought to tackle poverty and proposed new indicators to measure life chances, but it is vital that the impact of low income is not forgotten.
 
“While the commitment to a higher wage, lower welfare economy is the right goal – the facts remain that of the 2.3 million children living in poverty, almost two thirds are in working households.

“Low income can impact on a child’s health, their ability to learn and succeed in life. With those numbers set to rise, any meaningful strategy focused on improving the life chances of our children cannot overlook the scourge of low income.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society said the commitment to improving life chances will mean little without a concerted effort to tackle child poverty.

“Reducing the number of families struggling with debt and surviving on low incomes must be at the centre of any new strategy. The best way of improving children’s chances of having a decent start in life is to make sure they are not growing up in cold homes or without hot meals.
 
“If the government is serious about improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families it will need to do much more, including in the Autumn Statement, to turn its rhetoric into reality. The first step should be scrapping the four-year freeze on children’s benefits and cuts to support for working families under Universal Credit.”

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