Shadow children’s minister attacks ‘repeated attempts to deregulate’ children’s services

Emma Lewell-Buck has criticised the government's record in a debate in Parliament

Emma Lewell-Buck MP, shadow children and families minister

The shadow children’s minister has attacked the government’s “misguided” approach to children’s services and the Department for Education’s controversial “myth-busting document” published last year.

In a debate in parliament the Labour MP, and former social worker, Emma Lewell-Buck accused the minister of being “not too concerned about local authorities fulfilling their statutory duties towards children, as he recently argued that such duties are subject to local interpretation and disseminated a very dangerous myth-busting document advising local authorities to dispense with their statutory guidance”.

The minister, Nadhim Zahawi, asked Lewell-Buck to withdraw the comment and “correct the record” as he said it was “absolutely not true”, however she refused, arguing “what I am saying is already correct”.

The myth-busting document was the subject of fierce criticism after it was first published in June 2018, and this past month children’s rights organisation Article 39 has threatened the government with a judicial review over the document it argues could have harmful effects on families.

Lewell-Buck urged the minister to “withdraw that document and cease the repeated attempts to deregulate and wipe away hard-fought-for protective legislation for children”.

‘Piecemeal, misguided measures’

More broadly, Lewell-Buck said the government’s whole approach “lacks any cohesive strategy and is consumed with piecemeal, misguided measures”.

“Measures such as the What Works Centres, Partners in Practice, the discredited national assessment and accreditation system and the innovation programme are not yielding any positive changes, but so far have cost over £200 million, with at least £60 million going from taxpayers to private companies,” Lewell-Buck said.

Zahawi defended the government’s record, particularly with regard to its interventions in local authorities deemed ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

“The first children’s services trust in Doncaster moved from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ in just two years. Just last week, Ofsted published an inspection report for Bromley…showing that its services are no longer ‘inadequate’ but are now judged as good.”

Previously, he has defended the myth-busting guide, arguing: “It seeks to clarify certain areas of the statutory guidance which practitioners had said were ambiguous or had given rise to incorrect assumptions about what is permissible.”

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4 Responses to Shadow children’s minister attacks ‘repeated attempts to deregulate’ children’s services

  1. Helen Wood January 21, 2019 at 3:36 pm #

    Nadhim Zahawi is not a minister, he is the Under Secretary of State for Children, the conservative government have downgraded this role. Unlike him, Emma Lewell Buck is one of the few MPs with solid experience in Children Services having been a social worker herself. So pleased she has stepped in here and is being heard No way should she withdraw anything she has way more experience than him.

  2. Sean Hayes January 21, 2019 at 6:18 pm #

    Yes misguided and devisive .Sadly none of it helps children or helps sustain a stable workforce.

  3. Catherine Moody January 22, 2019 at 9:21 am #

    Deregulation and stripping services to the bone is a prelude to contracting out, unusually to corporations that ministers have strong financial interests in. The ofsted regime reassures prospective contractors that the workforce can be worked to the bone. Watch, however, whilst local authorities will remain responsible, rather than contractors, when there is a serious case review. Nothing must prevent the £multi millions to be made by the already wealthy from the contracting out of children’s services.

  4. Paul January 23, 2019 at 9:46 pm #

    Regulation clearly has a place but I do think there is a case for a more focussed approach to ensure that it focusses on those groups of children it really benefits and doesn’t constrain practice judgements where a different approach for other children might be better.

    For example – the regulations around IROs for looked after chuldren clearly works well for some looked after children – but it is arguable that at least some of those where the plan is long term care and where they are in permanwnt placements might be better served by delegating more of the IRO role to the foster carer. In my experience I have seen foster carers being far more effective advocates for the children they care for than the IRO. In one instance it was the carer who sought a judicial review on the local authoritiy’s plan and not the child’s IRO! Similarly there is a case for some children with severe disabilities who are in care – for their parents to maintain their role kverseeing the plan and advocating for them – rather than passing this to an IRO – especially given that there is obviously going to be a greater likelihood that the IRO might change rather than the child’s parents. The current regs don’t really allow this level of flexibility. Instead of having so many IROs overseeing practice wouldn’t children be served better by keeping these experienced social workers in delivery the lractice instead?

    It is also typical of a Labour politician in my opinion to stick rigidly to procedure and regulation without really thinking about how the end objectives might require a different and more flexible approach depending on the issues each child and their familiy’s face.

    Let’s remember that under the New Labour government of the late 90s to 2010 we saw an explosion in amount of statutory guidance and regulation in children’s services – which alongside a strengthening of managerialism in social work by Blair contributed to an increase in robotic and mechanistic thinking in social work practice.