It is difficult to know if the Government is serious about protecting children or not in the light of seemingly contradictory announcements in the last 10 days.
On 24 April the Government announced that more than £12 million would be spent on projects to tackle the increased risk some children and young people are facing, and that children in care and care leavers would benefit. Then, on 2 May, it announced £76 million for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and vulnerable children. This funding is more than welcome and indeed necessary. There is no doubt that the threat of domestic abuse, particularly children, in the household is increasing in the lockdown. Those of us in the field of child protection are sadly not surprised about this. So far, so good.
However, on 24 April the Government introduced new regulations which, in the view of many informed observers, leave vulnerable children even worse off than they are already.
The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 came into force with barely any notice and without the usual discussion time. They are set to last until September but can remain for longer if the Government chooses to extend them.
These regulations have brought in a number of significant changes which reduce and remove the measures that up until now had been in place to protect and safeguard children. For example, they remove the requirement for visits every six weeks to children in foster care, saying they must visit as soon as reasonably practicable after the due date; they allow for reviews of children, which are meant to be biannual, to take place less often; they remove the requirement for adoption panels; they provide that visits to children’s homes no longer need to be monthly and they remove the need to assess suitability of foster carers and permit this to be done by the agencies themselves. There are many more changes, and none provide any greater levels of protection to vulnerable children.
Amongst others, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner and the CEO of NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service) has called on the Government to revoke or withdraw the regulations in a public statement. Article 39, a charity which campaigns for children’s rights, has set up a petition to seek the revocation of the regulations which is supported by many leading Children’s Charities and senior figures in child protection.
At this time, vulnerable children who are coming into care and who are already in care need greater, not less protection. The outcomes for children in care are already so poor.
We all know that social workers are frontline workers and are under great pressure and that they are at risk themselves in carrying out visits. However, the answer is not to remove and erode protections, but to find a way to make sure visits happen, that panels meet, that scrutiny continues, even if undertaken differently, virtually or for shorter times.
We join the many voices who are calling on the Government to withdraw these regulations. The country already fears for the welfare of all its children. We cannot allow children in care to be let down even more than they are already.