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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Coronavirus and Calais refugees: How can you stay safe without soap?

“There is sickness and we can’t wash our hands” – Iranian refugee.

France has been in lockdown since 16 March with strict rules limiting movement outside homes but what does this mean if you haven’t actually got a home?

There are around 1200 refugees living rough in the pas-de-Calais region. They are in constant fear about their health and supplies of food and water as COVID-19 takes away much of the support they had.

Care4Calais (C4C) is a volunteer run charity delivering essential aid and support to refugees across Northern France and Belgium.  It is a charity well known to many staff and students at Edge Hill who have raised funds or worked for the charity as volunteers.

These refugees live in very poor conditions, exposed to the elements with a poor diet and a lack of readily available medical care. They are now living in constant fear of the virus due to the lack of running water and soap.

An emergency appeal by Care4Calais recently resulted in a fast response from three companies, The House of Botanicals (a gin distillery in Aberdeen), International Water Solutions in Romford and L’Oréal Paris. However, there is a constant need to replenish supplies as the French authorities deny access to running water for washing.

Since the start of the lockdown, many of the NGOs who previously provided essential support to these already vulnerable people have made the difficult, but understandable decision to suspend their operations. One of these, Refugee Community Kitchen had provided hot meals to refugees in the area every single day since December 2015.

Recently, C4C surveyed 150 refugees across Calais and Dunkirk to gather data on the impacts of Covid-19. The results are interesting.

Almost half (48%) of those surveyed have been in Calais for three months or less. This is a reminder of how transitory the population is. It contrasts with ideas of a ‘permanent’ unwanted presence in the region.

Coronavirus was a primary concern for only 14 of the 150 refugees who responded. Nearly three times as many said they were most fearful for their most basic needs of food, sanitation, shelter or clothing. How can this be? Perhaps when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, a potential illness no matter how threatening, becomes secondary.

As the lockdown has continued, C4C has had to focus almost entirely on supplying food. The regular distribution of clean clothes and supplies of washing facilities more or less ceased resulting in many refugees having to survive wearing the same dirty clothes for weeks.

This has resulted in a rise of conditions associated with a lack of basic hygiene. The need for clean clothing including footwear is a major concern for the refugees while C4C’s ability to meet this need has been compromised by the difficulties in obtaining donations and the lack of volunteers needed to deliver them.

C4C’s survey also showed that most people (86%) had serious reservations about using the shelters set up by the French authorities. This was mostly because the refugees knew this would mean abandoning their dreams of reaching the UK but also because they feared heightened exposure to coronavirus in confined spaces.

The refugees are in more need than ever before.

Dr Mike Stoddart is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and a member of the Action For Refugees Network at Edge Hill University.


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