More than 90,000 people have lent their support to a social worker’s petition opposing controversial measures included in the Children and Social Work Bill.
Carolyne Willow, co-founder of the children’s rights group Article 39, launched the petition against clauses in the bill that hand the government the power to exempt councils from statutory duties under children’s social care law for up to six years.
The government claims the exemptions will promote ‘innovation’ by allowing councils to trial new ways of working in children’s services. A handful of councils have already expressed interest in using the powers to review the way independent reviewing officers are used and approval arrangements for kinship carers.
But opponents, including a coalition set up by Article 39 that is backed by more than 30 organisations, argue that the plans threaten a legal safety net for children and families that has been carefully built up over the past 80 years.
The legislation will face its next parliamentary hurdle when the House of Lords debates amendments to the clauses, including one tabled by Labour peers for the exemption powers to be scrapped entirely.
The government has tabled its own amendments in a bid to shore up support for the measures and head off concerns that there are inadequate safeguards in the approval process for exemption applications.
In the petition, which has received more than 92,000 signatures against its target of 100,000, Willow said: “The government says [the clauses] will encourage innovation, but we fear the loss of essential services and support for children and care leavers by cash-strapped councils.
“There has been no public consultation and no evidence produced by the government to support the plan to offer up for abolition every legal duty made for vulnerable children and care leavers since 1933.”
In a letter sent to organisations last week urging them to support the measures, Isabelle Trowler, chief social worker for children, said the exemptions were a chance to trial changes to a system that was “overly-bureaucratic”.
She said most people agreed with the 2011 Munro review’s assessment that social workers were not being given enough time to do direct work with families.
“If we don’t support this power we can no longer complain that the system is too bureaucratic and that we were hamstrung by legislation,” she said.
Read more from both sides of the debate: ‘Scrapping red tape or safeguards? The fight for the future of children’s services’