The Children & Social Work Bill is making its way through the Lords. It was enthusiastically introduced by Lord Nash as giving local authorities “an opportunity to test new ways of working in a safe and managed environment so that they can tailor their services specifically to the needs of children rather than slavishly following a set of one-size-fits-all rules”.

Indeed clauses 15 to 19 of the Children & Social Work Bill introduce a fast-track process for the removal of any of hundreds of local authority duties to children, young people and families.

NAIRO was one of the signatories to a letter to the Guardian newspaper urging peers to reject clauses 15-19, and call on the government to consult on its vision and plan for children’s social care. Bill-puts-children’s-social-care-at-risk

NAIRO’s patron and co signatory, Professor June Thoburn,  was quoted in another article “June Thoburn – emeritus professor of social work at the University of East Anglia – told the Guardian new powers were not needed because existing legislation already allows frontline social workers to innovate. It was not clear why exempting failing authorities from legal duties would improve services, or why already successful councils need more freedom.

She said: “It is hard to escape the conclusion that [the bill] is really about achieving David Cameron’s stated aim of ‘academisation’ for all local authority child and family social care and child protection services.

“But by providing a route for (initially) a few selected local authorities to divest themselves of (unspecified) duties introduced into legislation to help families in distressing circumstances, these proposed clauses open the door to the removal of crucial rights and services from some of our most disadvantaged citizens”. labour-fears-potential-privatisation-of-child-protection-services

Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, has already proposed that the role of the IRO should be removed using these powers “ the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer. Is that the best use of those 2,000 or so practitioners, in a very prescriptive role? Often our most experienced , talented practitioners are IROs. Could we use that skill, resource differently? communitycare article

Lord Nash told the Lords that “there is strong consensus in the sector that in low-risk cases the role of the independent reviewing officer brings no additional benefit. Exemptions will allow local authorities to trial redirecting IRO resource differently—for example, to more complex cases—while reducing the number of additional people a young person does not know at their review, which is a known concern, in more straightforward cases”

The Lords are doing a sterling job in scrutinising the Bill and raising questions about the skeleton nature of the Bill which was raised by the Constitution Committee “The Bill grants extensive powers to the Secretary of State …..the introduction of legislation that leaves much to the subsequent discretion of ministers. We regret that, despite the concerns expressed in the past by this and other committees, the Government continues to introduce legislation that depends so heavily on an array of broad delegated powers.”

I think we are all aware at this time of how quickly power can change hands. Our most vulnerable children do not deserve to be at the mercy of political power games now or in the future.

Jacki Rothwell

Chair of Trustees NAIRO