The Magistrates’ Association (MA) has monitored the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill through Parliament, and has noted with concern the issues being raised by a wide variety of individuals and organisations with expertise in children’s social care.
There are particular concerns around the proposed power to exempt councils from children’s social care legislation, which was voted down in the House of Lords but will be reintroduced as the new clause 2 in the Commons.
Whilst the direct impact this would have on the family court is as yet unclear, the MA notes that any negative impact on the wider social care sector would ultimately affect cases coming before family magistrates. The MA also notes that the recent Laming Review, which examined the disproportionate criminalisation of looked after children, called for more consistent support, early intervention and joint working within children’s social care and services. It is concerning that the proposed changes may limit the consistent and full implementation of recommendations in that review.
Despite the fact the MA recognises that the government has made alterations in light of some of the issues raised, there remain considerable concerns. The MA notes that a coalition of over 40 organisations continue to oppose this clause, and this includes organisations representing those at the very heart of providing essential social care services to children and young people.
The MA echoes the comments in the Lords that nothing can be more important than the safeguarding and protection of children, especially those who are at greatest risk or are the most vulnerable. The MA understands the protections afforded to children, and the legislation under which these can be found, to be an interdependent body of work, with a connected and cohesive nature. This would be at risk in light of potential exemptions.
Those on the front line of children’s social care services have not identified the provisions provided in the new clause as necessary, and point to the flexibility already afforded under the current system. The MA supports arguments that any such clause should only be implemented on the strongest evidence that such fundamental changes respond to an identified need and are in the best interests of children. The MA would encourage the government to source independent research on the validity and need for these provisions before introducing any such innovation clause.