By Edward Timpson
Over the past few months I have been listening to social workers, directors of children’s services, councils, academics, third sector organisations and fellow parliamentarians. They’ve all given me their views about the Children and Social Work Bill, which today is back in the House of Commons for its second reading.
However, before I outline the amendments we are making following those conversations, I would like to reflect on why we’re bringing this Bill forward in the first place.
As a Minister and someone who grew up in a family that fostered, I am committed to putting the interests of vulnerable children right at the heart of the social care system and beyond, and this is exactly what the Bill is about.
For those in and leaving the state’s care it makes clear that they are entitled to the kind of support that we would wish to see provided by any caring family. It also gives councils and all those working with vulnerable children the tools to act confidently to protect them properly and shape services to their needs. And it makes sure that the people working with those children every day are properly prepared for one of the most demanding jobs there is.
The opportunity for scrutiny and debate is an essential part of each Bill’s journey. As a result we have been able to build on the Bill to include further measures that I am sure will go further in benefiting many children and families across the country.
‘New social work regulator’
We have, for example, sharpened the focus and increased the independence of the new regulator for social workers, so that it will be better able to support higher standards across the profession. We have made sure there is a stronger focus on children in care and care leavers building and maintaining strong relationships. We are also making sure that responsibility for safeguarding children locally rests with the agencies that can really make a difference. And we have brought in extra protection for people who blow the whistle when things are going wrong.
Today I can announce that we will amend the Bill to extend the support put forward for adopted children, to encompass children adopted from care outside of England. Helping vulnerable children, and the wonderful families who give them a secure and loving home, remains a top priority.
Whenever I have met frontline social workers, whether as a foster sibling, family barrister or Minister, I am struck by the passion and energy they bring to their work, and humbled by the dedication they show to the young people with whom they work. Too often, though, I leave with a message that rather than helping them in their task, the structures and processes successive governments have put in place can get in the way of providing a service in the best interests of children.
‘Altered and improved clauses’
The power to innovate responds to this challenge, and the wishes of those working in children’s services. It is important that we trust and empower our local authorities to improve and excel, and I am convinced that, with the proper safeguards in place, the ability to try out new approaches will allow us to drive wider improvement from our most innovative practitioners and services.
But I have heard the concerns raised over the clauses on the power to innovate and today, in response to these concerns, I will tell the House that we plan to introduce a much altered and improved set of clauses for consideration by parliament. These powers will give local authorities an opportunity to try different ways of delivering better services to children, while maintaining their fundamental rights and ensuring they still receive the services they need. Some commentators have suggested that the power to innovate would place children at risk. This is simply wrong. The whole point of the power is to improve services for children.
The debate on the Bill has been fierce, and rightly so, because getting legislation right in children’s social care is so important. I am looking forward to debating these amendments in the House of Commons, and through the Bill making sure that vulnerable children get the support they need in order to thrive.