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MPs tighten child social work innovation clauses

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MPs have voted to reinstate clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill that would give the education secretary powers to exempt councils from some statutory duties.

Last night MPs on the bill committee voted 10 to 5 to approve amended proposals designed to address concerns expressed by campaigners.

The clauses, which were heavily criticised by a number of organisations, were removed from the bill when the government suffered a defeat in the Lords in November.

The new changes prevent councils from seeking exemptions from specific sections of the Children’s Act 1989 and Children Act 2004 relating to child protection duties. They would also block councils from using exemptions to contract profit-making providers for children’s social care.

The bill still, however, allows for flexibilities over the assessment of friends and family members for looked after children, and the use of independent reviewing officers.

The Local Government Association has voiced general support for the amendments in evidence submitted to the committee, although the LGA’s children and young people board is due to discuss the proposals in more detail at a meeting on Friday.

The British Association of Social Workers, which opposed the clauses, published a survey yesterday which found 76% of social workers in England believe local authorities should not be given the power to opt out of statutory duties to children and families in the name of innovation.

BASW chief executive Ruth Allen said amendments to the bill had been “rushed” and there had not been sufficient consultation.

She added: “The profession cannot and will not accept a lip service approach to engagement that keeps the majority of the profession marginalised and silenced.

“Imposing reform on the profession without proactive discussion and due legislative process cannot lead to successful, progressive and sustainable change.”

The survey also found 87% of the 1,100 survey respondents said they want social work to be regulated by an independent body but only 26% believed this should be done by the current regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council.

Plans to bring the regulation of social work under direct government control have been shelved and the bill now proposes the formation of a new non-departmental public body, Social Work England, to fulfil the function.

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