The government has launched a consultation on plans to extend several of the measures that were introduced to relax statutory duties for social workers in response to COVID-19.
The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, or statutory instrument 445 was introduced in April with minimal consultation and without the parliamentary process to relieve pressures on social workers as they faced the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (“the 2020 Regulations”) made temporary amendments to a set of 10 children’s social care regulations and came into force on 24 April 2020. They provide for extra flexibility in some circumstances which may arise as a direct result of coronavirus (COVID-19) for example high levels of staff sickness. Local authority duties towards children which are contained within primary legislation remain unchanged. The temporary amendments which have been made do not reduce the responsibility that local authorities have towards protecting children from significant harm and protecting their welfare,” said the government.
However, the move prompted criticism not least from the children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield who called for the measures to be revoked and children’s rights charity Article 39 who were granted permission for a judicial review.
Last week, children’s minister Vicky Ford said that local authorities should no longer be using the flexibilities set out in the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and, where they are used, there should be “strong justification”. She added that she would be writing to local authorities to reinforce this.
She said that the government has always been clear that these temporary amendments should be used only when absolutely necessary and only if consistent with the overarching safeguarding and welfare duties that have remained in place. The guidance sets out clear safeguards about how and when they should be used:
- where staff shortages, due to sickness or other reasons, make it difficult or impossible to meet the original requirements.
- where making use of flexibilities to take a different approach is the most sensible, risk-based response in light of other demands and pressures on services, this might involve focusing services on those most at risk.
- where there is a consequential reason to make use of flexibilities, for example, due to limited capacity in other providers or partners making it difficult or impossible to comply with the original requirements.
The monitoring data suggests that the regulations are being used infrequently. When they have been used, this mainly focussed on the amendments to fostering and adoption regulations, including: 1. Allowing medical reports to be considered at a later stage in the adoption process minimising delays in approving adopters for children needing a new, forever family. 2. Relaxations around fostering panels allowing for continued recruitment of foster carers and a continued functionality of processes.
The consultation states that COVID-19 continues to present significant challenges to the country, including the way in which children’s social care services are delivered. The 2020 Regulations will currently expire on 25 September 2020. This consultation seeks your views on those regulations that the government proposes should lapse and those that may be extended for continued use to 31 March 2021.
The government proposes amending the timeframe where medical information is required, given the significant challenges the NHS continues to face. This does not remove the requirement for medical information to be provided but provides additional time for this to be provided- and it must be provided before approval.
Essential services must remain operational during lockdown where households are required to self-isolate or where there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. Contact in these situations should continue to be virtual but only where a face-to-face visit is not practicably possible.
Ofsted are planning a phased return to inspections. The government proposes to continue the suspension of the frequency regulation which sets out the minimum number of inspections required in various settings to be carried out.
Other than that, the regulations introduced on 24 April will lapse on 25 September.
The consultation expires on 5 August 2020.
Children’s Social Care Government consultation
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