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'Innovation' clauses dropped from social work bill

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The government has dropped controversial clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill which would have enabled councils to be granted exemptions from care law in order to test new ways of working.

The Department for Education has confirmed today that parliament has been informed of the government’s intention to remove the clauses, which opponents said would have undermined the rights of children and their families.

However, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services had backed granting councils flexibilities in order to drive up standards.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have listened to concerns raised about introducing the power to innovate, which would have meant councils could test new approaches in order to support the country’s most vulnerable children. In recognition of this we are not taking forward that particular aspect of the bill.‎”

The spokesperson added that the amended bill would “support and strengthen” social work by establishing a new dedicated regulator committed to “raising professional standards”.

The government was defeated in the Lords over the exemption clauses in November, but the measures were reinstated with amendments designed to address opponents’ concerns when the bill returned to the Commons in January.

An amendment to remove the clauses, tabled by shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck, is expected to be added to the bill when it goes into report stage in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Professor Eileen Munro, whose review of social work informed the legislation, criticised the clauses last month, describing them as creating “more danger than benefits”.

Dave Hill, president of the ADCS, said he was not surprised that the clauses had been removed from the bill as the government had faced sustained pressure from opponents.

He added: “The intervention of Eileen Munro was probably key - it had become a political hot potato.

“We could see some merit in it but we also knew there were some issues around protecting rights.

“We agreed with the principle of innovation if exemptions were properly evaluated and led to better practice, but on balance it had become quite a divisive issue.”

Mr Hill added that councils would still look to test new ways of working within the current legislative framework.

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