Government uses Queen’s speech to advance jail plans for social workers

Police and criminal justice bill includes a consultation on introducing criminal offence of wilful neglect for professionals who fail to act on child protection concerns

Queen Elizabeth
Picture credit: Rex Features

The government will push ahead with a consultation on jail sentences for social workers who “wilfully neglect” children, under a bill announced in the Queen’s speech today.

Despite fierce protest from the sector, including a petition that amassed more than 11,000 signatures, the police and criminal justice bill will pave the way for a criminal offence of wilful neglect for professionals who fail to act on child protection concerns.

The move is likely to provoke outrage among social workers, many of whom have warned it will contribute to the already-intense blame culture within child protection and dissuade students from pursuing social work careers.

New adoption law

The government also confirmed its commitment to setting up regional adoption agencies, which will work across local authority boundaries to match children more quickly.

The education and adoption bill will give the secretary of state the power to compel councils to give over their adoption functions to another authority or regional agency.

Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Regional adoption boards are now in place throughout England, collecting and sharing examples of good local practice and encouraging stronger joint working wherever possible.

Welfare and taxes

“Collaboration works best when it is driven by the sector itself so the government’s promise of financial and practical support for local areas to move forward with their own proposals is useful.”

However, he added the government must ensure the focus on adoption does not detract from other permanence options for children such as kinship care or special guardianship orders.

A number of other bills were set out in the speech, outlining the government’s plan for areas including welfare and taxes, devolution and tackling extremism.

  • Troubled families programme

Former communities secretary Eric Pickles’ pet project will be expanded in this parliament.

The Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill has placed a duty on local authorities to report on the progress of the troubled families programme, in the first Conservative-only Queen’s speech in almost two decades.

  • Integration

The speech set out the government’s commitment to integrating healthcare and social care, in order to reduce the pressure on emergency services.

  • Mental health services

Plans to introduce waiting time standards for mental health services, including talking therapies and specialist care for people experiencing their first episode of psychosis, were formalised.

  • Places of safety

The Policing and Criminal Justice Bill will prohibit the use of police cells as places of safety for under-18s experiencing an episode of mental ill health, and aims to reduce their use for adults.

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