Children & Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by John Dawson, Senior Social Work Practitioner (CSWB 17)

As a social worker currently employed with a local authority I am extremely concerned about the clauses of the Children and Social Work Bill. I feel during the passage of the Bill Lord Nash already revealed 3 examples of the government's expectations of how it could beneficially be used. However, all three are very far from being mere administrative, procedural reforms to ease the day-to-day process of flexible, responsive social work. On the contrary they each involve the redefining of a child's rights to certain safeguards and council support duties. At the second reading the Minister gave examples of removing requirements for Independent Reviewing Officers from the many children who 'obviously' don't really need them and relaxing the processes of pre-placement assessment for children who might be placed in the care of relatives. The recent Committee debates raised a third new idea of dropping the right to care status and follow on support for young people remanded to custody. This duty on councils, ironically was fought for by the children's and youth justice voluntary sector as an important aspect of the state's corporate parent duty towards all children who are removed by the state from their family home for any significant period of time. It was a response to some of the best 'innovative' local practice in treating custody as part of the care continuum, and campaigning to put it on statute was about embedding that innovation as a new standard to be set for all children. The same story can be told of a whole myriad of the primary legislative provisions drawn into scope by cl 29-33 for potential local experimentation.

The idea dropping such primary legislative duties would be innovative, or would allow for better and more innovative practice, is in my view a dangerously misplaced idea of innovation and doesn't help but hinders it. 

In a Bill in which the government is rightly proud to be placing on statute, for the first time (ie 'innovating'), a set of principles for 'corporate parenting', the fact the Minister could not even promise that those principles, once law, couldn't be opted out from locally under clauses 29-33, is frankly bizarre.

I wish I could be calm and certain private interests couldn't profit from child protection if they tried. 

I suspect the division of services and slicing off of profitable niche areas will inevitably emerge. I personally don't doubt for one moment that the assurances from Ed Timpson, that there is no 'intention' to allow profit-making from children's service reforms, are sincere. When passing primary legislation in children's social care, we must put it past a test of perpetuity, and look way beyond the good reputation and intentions of a sitting incumbent Minister. Is this legal provision right in principle? Is it safe in practice? Does it carry risks of abuse and unforeseen unintended consequences? Responsible law making, demands that all such questions and risks be rigorously addressed, or the law should not pass at all. 

Every single primary legislative lynchpin of child protection and care is placed in scope for exemptions by clause 29-33. Much of it was placed on statute as the culmination of innovation, learning and practice-led campaigning. To paint the law as a barrier to improvement is simply inaccurate. Let's not avoid the simple fact that the ever-worsening (and potentially dystopian) council funding situation is the single greatest barrier to excellent practice in social care, to the long-term reduction of family crises and the demand for protection. I haven't meet a single colleague in Children's social care who bemoans the law for getting in the way of doing their job. What I have found are many that are angry and exasperated about the Treasury's council cuts. 

I remain deeply worried and it's tiresome to be painted as anti-innovation when I've played an enthusiastic part in social work practice, for over 30 years. The responses from Government ministers need to do a lot more than paint critics as luddites who don't understand innovation. They need to show they understand the real significance of the law itself, before putting it all up for grabs.

John Dawson 

Senior Social Work Practitioner 

December 2016


Prepared 5th January 2017