Children and Social Work Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (CSWB 06)

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] House of Commons Public Bill Committee

Executive summary

- The safeguarding of vulnerable children is a priority issue for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and we are therefore following the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] with interest.

- Our key calls for inclusion in the Bill are as follows:

o We would like to see Clause 12 of the Bill amended to require mandatory representation from the frontline (ideally a highly experienced Designated Doctor and Designated Nurse for Safeguarding) on the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel;

o We want reassurance from Government of the independent nature of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel;

o We want Clause 13 of the Bill to be amended to remove the definition of serious harm, with a detailed explanation instead outlined in statutory guidance;

o We would like to see Clauses 16 and 24 amended to specify that the health partner in local safeguarding arrangements and child death reviews should be a person with frontline safeguarding experience. A clear job description for this role should be outlined in the Bill’s accompanying statutory guidance. We offer our assistance and expertise in drafting this job description;

o We would like to see a legislative framework to support the introduction of an entitlement to mental health assessments for looked-after children;

o We would like to see the role of designated professionals enshrined in legislation, with the job description outlined in accompanying statutory guidance;

o We would like to see New Clause NC11 on the provision of personal, social and health education adopted.

- We are concerned by the introduction of New Clauses NC2 – NC9, which would allow local authorities to operate outside the legislative framework for children’s social care and test "different ways of working" and would like to see these New Clauses rejected.

1. Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

1.1 Clause 12 of the Bill allows for the establishment, by the Secretary of State, of a Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to "identify serious child safeguarding cases in England which raise issues that are complex or of national importance, and where they consider it appropriate, to arrange for those cases to be reviewed under their supervision". The Panel would "consist of a chair and members appointed by the Secretary of State", but the Bill does not specify who this chair or these members would be. This is of great concern to the RCPCH.

1.2 The previous Independent Panel for Serious Case Reviews did not include persons with frontline safeguarding expertise (membership included a journalist and an aviation risk expert). We expressed our concerns about this to the Department for Education when the original Panel was being established, so we are greatly disappointed to see that this Bill fails to take account of the necessity to specify this new Panel must include members with frontline safeguarding experience.

1.3 The RCPCH wants to see mandatory representation from the frontline (ideally a highly experienced Designated Doctor and Designated Nurse for Safeguarding) enshrined in the legislation.

1.4 We also have concerns about the independent nature of this new Panel. We would like reassurance from Government that, if the Secretary of State is to have oversight of the Panel, he or she cannot influence or in any way suppress its findings.

1.5 The RCPCH wants reassurance from Government of the independent nature of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.

2. Definition of serious harm

2.1 Clause 13(9) of the Bill defines serious harm as including "serious or long-term impairment of mental health or intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development". The RCPCH believes that this definition is far too vague and highly subjective. We would like to see this definition removed from the legislation altogether, with a detailed explanation (including specific case examples) of serious harm included in the Bill’s subsequent guidance, which must be statutory.

2.2 The RCPCH is calling for the Bill’s definition of serious harm to be removed, with a detailed explanation instead outlined in statutory guidance.

3. Local safeguarding arrangements

3.1 Clause 16 of the Bill provides for ‘local arrangements for safeguarding and promoting welfare of children’. While we welcome the intention to provide clarity on who would be responsible for making local arrangements, we are greatly concerned that this provision would grant the status of health safeguarding partner to "a clinical commissioning group for an area any part of which falls within the local authority area". This raises a number of problems:

- Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) do not have oversight of all health commissioning, and so will not represent all local health services

- The health partner in all local safeguarding arrangements should first and foremost have frontline safeguarding experience. It is quite possible that this person could be employed by the CCG, but experience, expertise and strategic qualities, not employing body, should be the focus of the role.

3.2 The above also applies to child death review partners, as established in Clause 24 of the Bill.

3.3 The RCPCH would like to see Clauses 16 and 24 amended to specify that the health partner in local safeguarding arrangements and child death reviews should be a person with frontline safeguarding experience. A clear job description for this role should be outlined in the Bill’s accompanying statutory guidance. We offer our assistance and expertise in drafting this job description.

4. Mental health assessments

4.1 The RCPCH welcomes the Government’s commitment to introducing a series of pilots to test an integrated approach to mental and physical health assessments for looked-after children and we are keen to work with Government to ensure that these pilot schemes are appropriately implemented and robustly evaluated. However, we are concerned that there will be no legislative framework to support the introduction of an entitlement to assessments in all local authority areas once the pilots have been completed.

4.2 The RCPCH wants a legislative framework to support the introduction of an entitlement to mental health assessments for looked-after children.

5. Strengthening the role of designated professionals

5.1 The RCPCH believes that this Bill offers an opportunity for Government to enshrine the vital role of designated professionals for safeguarding children in legislation. Designated professionals provide strategic advice and guidance to organisational boards across the health community. Many areas, however, have difficulties filling these posts, and when they are filled, designated professionals often do not have the capacity to influence strategic planning. Enshrining their role in legislation as part of this Bill would strengthen it and underline the importance of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of looked-after children.

5.2 The RCPCH, in conjunction with a large number of other royal colleges and contributing organisations, have developed an intercollegiate safeguarding competences document, which outlines the key competencies for the role of, among others, designated professionals. This could be used in statutory guidance outlining the job description for a designated professional.

5.3 The RCPCH would like to see the role of designated professionals enshrined in legislation, with the job description outlined in accompanying statutory guidance.

6. Powers to test different ways of working

6.1 The RCPCH greatly welcomed the removal of the controversial Clause 29, which would have enabled "a local authority in England to test different ways of working with a view to achieving better outcomes under children’s social care legislation or achieving the same outcomes more efficiently". Whilst we agree in principle with exploring innovative ways of working with children and young people – and we know that many areas already do – we do not believe that allowing local authorities to step outside a legislative framework is the best way of achieving this.

6.2 We are thus concerned to see New Clauses NC2-NC9, as tabled last week, which would reintroduce the clauses to give local authorities powers to test different ways of working. Although we note that these New Clauses are more expansive in their proposals for what these powers would look like and what local authorities would be obliged to do, we continue to oppose for the reason stated above. Local authorities already explore innovative practices for working with looked-after children, and there is no need to introduce a legislative exemption – which could potentially result in unintended consequences detrimental to child protection – allowing them to do so.

6.3 The RCPCH calls on MPs to reject New Clauses NC2-NC9 from the Bill and protect the legislative framework for children’s social care.

7. Provision of personal, social and health education

7.1 The RCPCH is a proponent of personal, social and health education (PSHE) and has long called for it to be made a statutory subject for all schools in England and the devolved nations. We are therefore asking MPs to support New Clause NC11, which proposes to place a requirement on local authorities to ensure that pupils educated in their area receive appropriate PSHE, the provision of which would be inspected by Ofsted.

7.2. The RCPCH calls on MPs to accept New Clause NC11 on the provision of personal, social and health education

8. About the RCPCH

8.1 The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) works to transform child health through knowledge, innovation and expertise. With a broad reach of over 17,000 members worldwide, the College is responsible for training and examining paediatricians and plays a major role in advocacy, policy development and in supporting the maintenance of professional standards for its members.

December 2016

 

Prepared 13th December 2016