ELB Education Qs Feb 2017

In Education Questions earlier this month, Emma tackled the Government over their plans to allow local authorities to be granted permission from the Secretary of State to be exempt from laws designed to protect vulnerable children.

Under the plans, individual councils in England will be allowed to make a case to be exempt from the law – something which has never been allowed in the history of law-making for up to 6 years in order to ‘test new ways of working’.

80 years’ worth of child protection legislation, often developed following high profile child abuse inquiries such as those into the deaths of Maria Colwell, Victoria Climbie, Baby P and into the Cleveland child abuse inquiry, are at risk if these clauses are introduced.

The government has argued that it is a bold approach to remove red tape to allow for innovation. But many are concerned that this move, as well as being a bonfire of children’s rights with profound implications for the law-making process, would open up child protection services to the private market.

Emma has been leading the Opposition response to Government proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill now reaching its final stages in Parliament. She has consistently opposed the controversial clauses which were defeated in the House of Lords and despite amendments, are still hugely unpopular with the social work sector.

At least 50 organisations including the British Association of Social Workers, the British Institute of Human Rights, The Care Leavers’ Association, the Fostering Network and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England have grave concerns about the implications of these changes to vulnerable children.

Professor Eileen Munro whose landmark review of child protection was published in 2011 and hailed by the Government as a supporter of the controversial ‘innovation’ powers has recently withdrawn her backing after concluding they pose a “serious danger”.

Professor Munro said that whilst she understands and respects the motivation of the current government, there was a serious danger in having such wide-reaching powers in statute.

In her Question to the Secretary of State, Emma used an example of the risks that can arise when councils are no longer obliged to follow child protection guidance or legislation.

Of 12 councils given permission in 2012 to be exempted from certain statutory guidance on children’s social care, two have subsequently gone from being rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted to ‘Inadequate’.

The report on Wandsworth in London said the council “repeatedly failed foster children, children leaving care and teenagers at risk of child sexual exploitation.” Knowsley Council in Liverpool was described in a report 2 years ago of “widespread failures and inconsistent practice” leaving “some children and young people at risk of suffering harm.”

These examples demonstrate the risks involved in deregulation where vulnerable children are being used as guinea pigs to experiment with new ways of working.

You can read Emma’s Question to the Secretary of State and her Minister’s response here:

Following Education Questions, Emma said,

“The Minister accused me of failing to grasp what he was trying to achieve. But I understand perfectly well what he and his Government are proposing and their vision is dangerous for the very children we are supposed to be protecting.

It is actually the Government that has failed to show me or the many opposed to the innovation clauses, one shred of evidence to demonstrate how children’s welfare can be improved under these reforms. Excellent innovation strategies are being implemented by councils up and down the country without the need to cast aside child protection laws.

There is growing evidence to show that subverting the law in this way leaves vulnerable children and young people exposed to increased risk of abuse, neglect, being sexually exploited, going missing, reoffending, substance abuse and poorer life outcomes because of the removal of child protection safeguards.

It is also entirely inappropriate for primary legislation to be amended by regulations made by the Secretary of State at the request of a local authority. In constitutional terms this usurps the proper function of Parliament in making primary legislation. We simply do not need to disregard the law or experiment with children’s lives to introduce new or more efficient ways of working”.