Children & Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by Bolanle Kayode (CSWB 43)

Submission of Views:

To the House of Commons Public Bill Committee

RE - Children and Social Work Bill

1. Clause 29 of the Children and Social Work Bill allowing every Council in England to ask to be excused from legal obligation has been largely criticised by agencies, activists and members of the public. Although it was voted on 8th November to remove the broad powers expressed in clause 29 from the Children and Social Work Bill however, the discussions that this clause could still be considered for re-introduction has not gone away. I therefore make this submission (eleven paragraphs) as a qualified social work practitioner with relevant expertise and experience.

2. Given the broad powers expressed in this clause 29 could lead to abolition of Independent Review Officers (IRO) including Fostering & Adoption Panels, it is submitted that any attempt to re-introduce the clause would have negative consequences for vulnerable children and young persons. Whilst l appreciate that Department of Education is making concerted effort in their determination to radically redesign adoption system [Policy PaperAdoption: A vision for change, March 2016 jointly signed by Ms Nicky Morgan & Mr Edward Timpson], these two distinctive services need be seen as partners towards achieving the goals rather than introducing ‘clauses’ with broad powers that could abolish them.

3. The Independent Review Officers have statutory role of ensuring the implementation of agreed plans from care proceedings. Any plan to abolish this service is likely to have implications for the family courts. Given the Magistrate Association has recently noted that any negative impact on wider sector would ultimately affect cases coming magistrate courts, extreme caution need be taken with any move to re-introduce clause 29. Most importantly, local authorities have record number of children in voluntary accommodation under s.20 Agreement. These cases including those with CP-Plans and children already in long term care would normally be reviewed by IROs who are independent scrutinizers of the local authority’s actions with regards to children cases. Any attempt to abolish the service is likely to impact the confidence/trust in Children Services.

4. The Fostering and Adoption Panel has a wide range of expertise and knowledge involved in delivering its specialised service of making recommendation on children cases where adoption or long term fostering is the way forward. Although agencies make decisions about whether a family should be approved as an adopter or foster carer, they are guided in this by the recommendations made by Adoption and Fostering Panel. As a social worker who has attended this Panel, l can confirm that their support is immense in terms of making life changing decisions for children including whether a family should be approved as an adopter or foster carer. As well as advising around legal and regulatory framework regarding individual cases, they also address dilemmas/difficult issues which are usually not uncommon when agencies are processing family cases.

5. Contrary to the scandalous online reports by the few advocating for its abolishment, this panel play pivotal roles in ensuring that best interests of the child are safeguarded whilst also championing fair treatment for approved and prospective adopters/foster carers. In contrast to some critics that the panel only serve to rubber stamp proposals from social workers and agencies for a child to be adopted or matched with a specific couple, l will argue that the panel performs a scrutinising function and will usually make sure that social workers or the adoption agencies are promoting the safety/interest of the child before approval is considered.

6. It is no longer a myth that the public has developed a perception of power imbalance when it comes to social work practice. Given Adoption and Fostering Panel has independent role that is separate from Adoption and Fostering Services, they indirectly act as ‘check & balance’ on agencies. If part of the Government plan for radical transformation of social work practices is indeed to sharpen accountability, this Panel need not be viewed as a bottleneck. Any plan to abolish the service can of compromise the integrity in fostering system. Public confidence in adoption services could be undermined thereby increasing the suspicion: ‘adoption or fostering from the back door’.

7. The argument for clause 29 to possibly allow the exempt of assessment requirements for family and friend carers is unlikely to promote measurement of whether the care needs of the child can be met before they are placed. The consequence of such action can be dangerous especially for children from backgrounds where the ‘toxic trio’ of mental health, substance misuse and domestic violence are present. Undermining the importance of robustly assessing the protective capacity of family/friends in terms of how they can meet the care needs of the child raises potential risks. The practice has potential to restrict children’s right of access to support, thereby leaving them disadvantaged.

8. Children placed under such circumstance are unlikely to receive the support they require to stay safe and thrive well. The research by Selwyn et al already highlights the negative impact that placement disruption could have on children as well as carers. Given unmet needs are ‘fuel’ for placement disruption, the possibility of placement breakdown cannot be overlooked including its accompanying emotional stress on children, both of which adds to the trauma of separation from birth family that a child may already be dealing with. Whilst there could be thoughts that exempt of assessment requirements for family and friend carers could save cost, l will caution that given the above itemised risks, Government may end up spending more public money on costly placement disruptions including having to make financial provisions to address any negative impact that such placement disruption would have on the mental health of children.

9. Rather than abolishing these services for the sake of innovation, there are other areas such as improving the skills of professionals in meeting the care needs of children that could provide opportunities for trialling innovative practice. The research by Professor Selwyn: Beyond Adoption Order emphasised the need for skill development of professionals as there are many children requiring serious and intensive specialist services but for which the same regular care package, which though not relevant to their presented problems, continues to be offered. Furthermore, there is also on-going discussion/debate on the need to improve on cultural competency of professionals given the huge variety in ethnic and cultural background of children that comes to the attention of health and social care providers.

10. Culturally competency exists when service providers have been equipped with knowledge to help them identify potential cultural factors informing their interactions with clients most especially with those from different ethnic background. This is already being trialled within healthcare services such as NHS and social work profession need not lag. Trialling this can be particularly relevant for the section of the Children and Social Work Bill with direct relevance for the wave of children currently being resettled from Syria and the Calais jungle into the United Kingdom. There is a huge opportunity in these areas to trial innovative practices in children social care rather than having to abolish services that are already benefitting children and promoting safeguarding.

11. In conclusion, given the broad powers expressed in clause 29 and which could abolish the use of IRO and Fostering & Adoption Panel in children services, it is submitted that any attempt to re-introduce it into the Children and Social Work Bill would have profound negative impact on achieving better outcomes for children and young persons.

January 2017

 

Prepared 5th January 2017