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Stocktake recommendations could ‘weaken protection of children’

Several of the fostering stocktake’s recommendations risk weakening the protection of vulnerable children, a coalition of children’s organisations and experts has warned.

The fostering stocktake published last month by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers made 36 recommendations for the future of fostering including establishing a national register to better match foster children and prospective foster parents.

However, five of these recommendations could “greatly weaken the legal protection” of vulnerable children, the coalition of more than 40 organisations and experts warned.

“If acted on, recommendations 4, 6, 7, 8 and 33 would greatly weaken the legal protections enjoyed by our country’s most vulnerable children and young people,” a letter to the children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi stated.

Recommendation seven says local authorities should be able to remove the role of Independent Reviewing Officers after the stocktake “found little evidence to recommend the role,” and suggested the funding could be ploughed into frontline services.

Grave concerns have already been raised by Nagalro about this recommendation and the coalition said: “This recommendation could have a profound impact on the rights and welfare of children, including those who are remanded to custody, yet there is a dearth of evidence for it within the stocktake report.”

The coalition comprising organisations such as BASW, Association of Professors of Social Work, UNISON and The Care Leavers’ Association as well as experts including Dr Maggie Atkinson, former Children’s Commissioner for England, Dr Liz Davies, Emeritus Reader in Child Protection, London Metropolitan University, and Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, also raised concerns over recommendation four which asks the Department for Education to remove authority from parents whose children are being voluntarily accommodated under s20 Children Act 1989, so that there is automatic delegated authority to foster carers.

“Such a move would require a radical change to the Children Act 1989 and to the Family Law Reform Act 1969 (in relation to 16 and 17-year-olds), neither of which we believe would be compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations,” the coalition warns.

Furthermore, recommendation six states that a single social worker should be given the task of supervising foster carers and discharging the local authority’s duties to children in long-term foster placements, largely based on the pilot conducted by Match Foster Care to advocate a change to care planning regulations. Yet the evaluation report from the Match Foster Care pilot describes a complex picture and the evaluation was not conclusive in respect of the benefits to children of a single, all-purpose social worker.

Recommendation eight in the stocktake asks for an assessment and consultation on the effectiveness, cost and value for money of fostering panels. However, the importance of fostering panels has already been debated by parliamentarians and the children’s sector during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

Recommendation 33 recommends that local authorities should not presume that brothers and sisters in care should live together. The letter states: “This is a radical proposal that flies in the face of established childcare practice and law. It implicitly dismisses decades of testimony from children in care and care leavers. It would require a change to the Children Act 1989, which we do not believe would be compatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“They each advocate a dilution of legal safeguards; together they communicate a lack of understanding for the origins and importance to children’s welfare of existing policy. We are doubtful that any of the legislative proposals would be compliant with the UK’s human rights obligations, both within the Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” the letter added concluded.

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