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Government retreats on social work watchdog control

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Ministers have backtracked on a plan to establish a new social work watchdog controlled by government.

The Children and Social Work Bill had proposed the creation of a new regulator accountable to the education secretary, prompting the Association of Directors of Children’s Services to raise concerns over possible political interference in the registration of social workers.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate last week, children’s minister Edward Timpson said he was working to establish a “bespoke independent regulator”.

He added the new regulator, which will replace Health and Care Professions Council, would “create a more rigorous approach to continuing professional development in social work”.

Adcs president Dave Hill said he had had “discussions and debate” with the Department for Education on the issue over the last few weeks.

“It is the right thing to do and it will end up being a better regulator.” he added.

Further government amendments are expected to be proposed when the bill returns to the House of Lords report stage on November 8.

This will include an amendment to rule out privatisation of children’s services under Clause 29 of the bill which enables the education secretary to exempt councils from existing children’s social care legislation in order to test new ways of working.

This raised concerns that companies could be allowed to bid for contracts for child protection services.

Mr Timpson said: “Our aim is to strengthen, not weaken protections.

“We want to let the best local authorities, led by leading-edge practice leaders, work in ways with more potential to make an actual difference for children instead of watching and waiting, hamstrung by excessive prescription.”

Mr Timpson gave some examples of primary legislation that councils had requested flexibility on.

He said under section 25 of the Children Act 1989 there is a requirement for independent officers to carry out regular reviews for every looked after child.

Mr Timpson said this can prove “disruptive” for some children in “very stable placements”.

He added that any child who is not cared for by a family member or guardian for 28 days is currently classified as privately fostered under section 66 of the act and therefore requires the same protections as a looked-after child.

This means councils are required to regularly check on these children’s welfare, even if, for example, they are on a foreign exchange trip.

 

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