Professor Eileen Munro has backed controversial measures in the Children and Social Work Bill that would free children’s services from statutory duties in order to innovate.
Munro, whose landmark review of child protection was published in 2011, said powers in the bill to allow local authorities to request exemptions from certain social care legislation for three years would allow for new models of working to be trialled in “a controlled way”.
She said: “I welcome the introduction of the power to innovate set out in the Children and Social Work Bill. This is a critical part of the journey set out in my Independent Review of Child Protection towards a child welfare system that reflects the complexity and diversity of children’s needs.
“Trusting professionals to use their judgement rather than be forced to follow unnecessary legal rules will help ensure children get the help they need, when they need it. Testing innovation in a controlled way to establish the consequences of the change, before any national roll out, is a sensible and proportionate way forward.”
Munro’s review recommended that the government should “remove constraints to local innovation and professional judgment that are created by prescribing particular approaches”. She urged ministers to review statutory guidance and get rid of “unnecessary or unhelpful prescription” after she found targets and rules had become “so extensive” they limited social workers’ ability to stay child-centred.
The Children and Social Work Bill powers, set out in clause 15 of the bill, would allow ministers to grant councils freedom from certain pieces of social care legislation. This includes parts of the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004. The freedoms can be granted for three years, with an option of a further three year extension.
The proposals have generated controversy. The government has said they will allow councils to rethink the way they deliver services. The chief social worker for children, Isabelle Trowler, has said one example of freedoms some local authorities have expressed an interest in would be to have more flexibility in how they use their Independent Reviewing Officers.
But campaigners have claimed clause 15 poses a “massive threat” to children’s social care rights. Yesterday, in a separate intervention, a group of social work organisations, including BASW, called for the clause to be deleted from the bill. The group raised concerns the measures would create a “postcode lottery” in services and fragment provision by incentivising private firms and other third party providers.
The social work bodies also called on the government to remove a section of the bill on social work regulation that would pave the way for ministers to control social work regulation. The move risked social work’s regulatory functions being driven by government agendas, the group said.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Leading figures, such as Professor Eileen Munro, have voiced their support for our reforms and the Bill has received widespread praise for the improvements it will deliver for children and the professionals who care for them.
“Our Innovation Programme has already successfully empowered local authorities to re-think the way they approach their children’s services and councils are telling us that they want to go further – the Bill is the next step in this work so they can provide a better service for the families they look after. Establishing a specialist regulator will enable a relentless focus on raising quality, education, training and practice and we will be working with the sector to develop the framework for this.”
What legislation is covered by the exemptions?
Clause 15 of the bill said the freedoms apply to:-
- Any legislation specified in Schedule 1 to the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970, so far as relating to those under the age of 18: this covers the management of social services functions
- Sections 23C – 24D of the Children Act 1989: which cover how local authorities work with care leavers
- The Children Act 2004: which includes how children’s services in England are governed and inspected
- ‘Subordinate’ legislation to those three acts