Slackening of Statutory Measures to Safeguard Children: An Outcome of the Coronavirus Outbreak

Since lock down measures have been implemented in the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for England has exercised its powers to make changes to regulations concerned with the care planning, placement and review of services designed for some of our most vulnerable children.

Specifically, changes have been made which dilute regulations relating to the protection and care of children and young people who live in residential family centres and who are cared for by foster carers. The amendments to regulations also relax requirements relating to the inspection of these services and to the planning of care arrangements for children and young people. Worryingly, the broad scope for translating these amendments into practice increases the risk of ‘looked after’ children’s rights not being acknowledged and met.

On 24th April 2020 a new statutory instrument ‘The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020’  came into force and will remain in force until 25th September 2020. Changes made by this instrument amount to a watering down of previous regulations aimed to protect children cared for in state- and privately-run institutions, and in foster care.  The amendments include the addition of key phrases, such as “as far as is reasonably practicable” and “where applicable” which have the effect of weakening previously mandatory requirements. For example, under Regulation 33 (2) of The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 a duty was placed on local authorities to carry out reviews of every child in care “at intervals of not more than six months”. However, under point 8 (14) of the April 2020 amendments this requirement has been substituted with “where reasonably practicable” thus removing the obligation to ensure the frequency of reviews.

Additionally, Regulation 9 of The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 states that where the registered manager or the responsible individual of a Fostering Agency is convicted of any criminal offence “that person must without delay give notice in writing to the Chief Inspector of (a) the date and place of the conviction,[and] (b) the offence of which they were convicted”. However, amendment 9 (5) of the April 2020 regulations substitutes the term “without delay” with “as soon as is reasonably practicable” thus meaning that a Foster Care Manager could be convicted for committing a criminal offence but still be managing the Fostering Agency.

There has also been a relaxation of previously stipulated timeframes in which local authorise are required to act in order to help safeguard children. For example, under Regulation 6 of The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015, there was a requirement that the care children receive “is delivered by a person who (i) has the experience, knowledge and skills to deliver that care; and (ii) is under the supervision of a person who is appropriately skilled and qualified to supervised that care”. Point 11 (2) of the 2020 amendments has altered this requirement to “as far as reasonably practicable” thus having the potential to significantly relax this statutory requirement.

The loosening of regulations, albeit currently implemented for only limited period of time, could have serious consequences for around 80,000 (as estimated by Rights4children) children and young people in England living in state – and privately-run institutions, if the care they are receiving is inadequate and not suited to their needs. More reasons to worry, in already worrying times.

Professor Carol Robinson is Professor of Children’s Rights within the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.


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