The ‘exemption clause’ of the Children and Social Work Bill has been defeated.
Royal Assent has been granted to the Children and Social Work Bill, which now becomes the Children and Social Work Act 2017. We welcome the fact that the clauses (Chapter 3 of the Bill) allowing local councils to opt-out of their legal duties towards children and young people are not part of the legislation.
When introducing the Children and Social Work Bill in 2016, the government stated it would “tackle state failure and transform the outcomes of children in care, so that we give all of them the hope of a better future”. Yet a significant part of the Bill threatened to leave children at risk, by allowing the government to ‘exempt’ local authorities from legal duties under certain pieces of children’s social care legislation. The rationale for this change was that deregulation would allow local authorities to test out new ways of working.
While innovation in policy and practice is vital to all professions and services, these provisions have came under widespread and serious criticism. The Together for Children network of more than 50 expert organisations, including Coram Children’s Legal Centre, all warned the Government that the plans were dangerous and unnecessary. Where legal duties towards children exist, courts can ultimately decide if there has been a failure to implement them and often the threat of legal action is the only means of securing the appropriate support from local authorities.
After sustained criticism from both voluntary and statutory sectors, as well as Peers, the Government has finally abandoned the ‘exemption clauses’.
Kamena Dorling, Head of Policy and Programmes, said,
“These exemption clauses threatened the universal duties which have evolved over many decades to meet the needs and protect the rights of vulnerable children and young people. We welcome the decision to abandon these dangerous clauses in response to the concerns we have raised with partner organisations.”
Noel Arnold, Director of Legal Practice, said,
“CCLC supports innovation in the formulation and delivery of support and services to children and families but calls for full research and public consultation in advance of any weakening of statutory duties to children. Local authorities should not be exempted from compliance with statutory duties unless there is compelling evidence demonstrating that these duties inhibit the delivery of the very best in social care to children and families.”