The Unmet Rights of Children in Care: the State of Affairs 12 months on

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

In April 2020 regulations in the United Kingdom (UK) relating to the protection and care of children who live in residential family centres and who are cared for by foster carers, were relaxed. This raised alarm bells about the increased risk of these children’s rights not being met. Twelve months on, what is current state of affairs for some of our most vulnerable children?  

The relaxing of duties associated with protecting children in care was implemented through the statutory instrument ‘The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020’. Following the introduction of these regulations Article 39,  a charity championing children’s rights, challenged the government on the removal and/or watering down of 65 specific safeguards for children in care in England.

This led, on 24th November 2020, to The Secretary of State for Education being found to have acted unlawfully in removing the safeguarding for children in care through these regulations, and that the Children’s Commissioner and other bodies representing the rights of children in care should have been consulted thereon (Article 39). With reference to England’s 78,000 children in care, in the Concluding Comments at the Court of Appeal it was stated ‘the amendments as a whole were unquestionably substantial and wide-ranging and, when implemented, had the potential to have a significant impact on children in care’

While this is good news for children in care, there remains huge concerns about the lack of measures to ensure children in care are adequately protected.

In November 2020, the Children’s Commissioner reported that of the children in care in England, 6,570 are currently growing up in children’s homes, however, there are insufficient places in these homes to meet demand, stating that, ‘often these children end up in flats where they are overseen by teams of unknown agency staff while awaiting a more permanent place’ (p.3).

Such accommodation is classified as ‘unregulated’ meaning it is not monitored or inspected by any government regulator. Thus, there is an urgent need to improve the situation for the ‘13,000 children ending up in unregulated homes at some point during the year’ (Children’s Commissioner, 2020, p. 11).

In response, on 19th February 2021 Parliament ruled that a ban on the placing children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will come into force in September 2021 (Department for Education). While positive, this ban will only help around 100 children in care at any one time as the majority on children placed in unregulated accommodation are aged 16 and 17 (Article 39, 2021). It will also be too late for those children who have been ‘locked down’ in private and unregulated accommodation.

Thus, the situation will remain whereby young people aged 16 and 17 in the care system can be placed in privately-run accommodation without receiving care, meaning that their right to care will remain unmet. As we move out the pandemic, there is an urgent need to review how we look after children and young people both to ensure that their right to care is met – but also that it cannot be removed or altered without due process.

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

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 6th May 2020 by Carol which can be found here and coincided with the Human Rights Council’s Annual Day on the Right of the Child, on Monday 1st March 2021.

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