Children & Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by Ms Roisin Sweeny (CSWB 38)

I would like to provide a submission to you in relation to the proposed exemption clauses to the Children and Social Work Bill. I strongly urge you not to allow the reinstatement of these exemption clauses.

1. I worked in the voluntary (Supported Housing) sector for 8 years, providing services to vulnerable and homeless young people, including care leavers. The organisations I worked for were St Christopher’s Fellowship, Irish Centre Housing and St Martin of Tours (when they also ran youth services). I’ve seen and experienced how extremely important it is that local authorities are bound to protect children and young people by uniform statutory duties of care. Prior to moving into supported housing I worked for the housing and homelessness departments of local authorities (Manchester, Croydon, Islington and Camden) and so I have experience of how local authorities operate as well.

2. My experience of working for voluntary sector support organisations for young people in Kensington and Chelsea, Ealing, Westminster and Hackney has left me under no illusions about how necessary it is for local authorities to be legally accountable for the care they provide to all the vulnerable members of their populations, and especially children. Simply put, there are councils which will use these clauses to avoid providing the care that children and young people need, in order to save money. The children and young people will suffer harm; I would not be at all surprised if these very clauses lead directly to the deaths of children. The law providing protection for children and care leavers must not be open for councils to circumvent , to save money or for any other reason.

3. The reality is that councils, especially those in and around London, are often looking for ways to cut corners on th e duties they are supposed to provide . The way that the y administer homelessness legisl ation is a good case in point. The Homelessness Act 2002, which made it obligatory for local authorities to assess 16 and 17 year olds as being automatically in priority need, helped greatly to protect homeless children. Before this, London councils frequently turned away 16 and 17 year olds who had run away from home due to abuse, or been thrown out by families and were sleeping rough. I worked with these young people and advocated for them, and the passing of the Act – even though many London councils still tried hard to wriggle out of their new statutory duty – became much easier once this law was enacted.

4. Young people coming out of care are extremely vulnerable and need to be properly, legally, protected . As I’m sure you kn ow, the indicators show that by all life measures they are disadvantaged compared to children who have not grown up in care. To quote from the National Audit Office’s 2015 report: "The government recognises the quality of support for care leavers has been patchy and that their journey through life can be lonely, disrupted, unstable and troubled. Those leaving care may struggle to cope with the transition to adulthood. They may experience social exclusion, unemployment, health problems or end up in custody. Care leavers have had these problems for a long time."

(https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Care-leavers-transition-to-adulthood-summary.pdf)

5. Because of the disadvantages of the care system, and the psychological harm they’ve suffered due to the type of parenting, or lack of it, that they experienced before being taken into care, by the time they become teenagers children often already have many problems. These can manifest in challenging, even anti-social or criminal behaviour. In short, these children are difficult to work with. It is not at all hard to imagine some of the most hard-bitten councils using this behaviour as an excuse for opting out of working with these kids, leaving them even more incredibly vulnerable than they are now (and of course they are already the prey of choice for abusers, and not only in Rotherham. Remember Jimmy Savile’s abuse in care homes in Leeds and elsewhere).

In summary, I urge you not to allow these exemption clauses to be reinstated because I believe that they will lead to some councils opting out of providing care and protection to children and care leavers, and that this will in turn lead to severe harm befalling these children.

December 2016

 

Prepared 5th January 2017