Emma Lewell-Buck: Questions over child welfare U-turn

Education Secretary Justine Greening backed the amendment
Education Secretary Justine Greening backed the amendment
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In my role as shadow minister for children and families, I have been leading for the Opposition over the past six months on the Children and Social Work Bill.

The key part of this legislation was the Government’s plans to allow local authorities to opt out of child protection regulations.

That is 80 years’ worth of child protection legislation developed in the wake of high-profile child abuse inquiries such as those into the deaths of Maria Colwell, Victoria Climbié, Baby P and the Cleveland child abuse inquiry.

This hard-fought legislation has led to us having one of the safest child protection systems in the World.

The Government referred to their plans to allow councils to be exempt from vast swathes of child protection obligations as being the catalyst for innovation.

But there is nothing at all innovative about children who have been removed from their parents’ care being placed with carers that no one has properly assessed to be sure they are safe, or overlooking the duty to assess the suitability of carers from the child’s own family to be considered as a carer or to ignore the requirement for an independent review before a child is removed from their family or carer.

Dispensing with such protections in a piecemeal approach would have resulted in a postcode lottery of care leaving vulnerable children being placed at greater risk by the very institution that claims to be acting as a ‘corporate parent’.

Worse still, the Government has been completely unable to show me any evidence that the legislation in children’s social care work prevented them from innovating and protecting children.

Yet there is an abundance of evidence that statutory duties are frequently a lifeline for very vulnerable children and young people and there are many outstanding local authorities that are innovating without the need to dispense with child protection law.

The real motivation behind these plans had nothing to do with ‘innovation’ and everything to do with creating a market place within child protection services, an ideological approach we have seen the Tories bringing into our schools and hospitals.

I have worked opposing these dangerous measures alongside a range of organisations and individuals including care leavers, adult survivors of abuse, social workers, academics, children’s rights campaigners and well over 50 charities and organisations including some of our oldest children’s charities – Action for Children and the NSPCC.

In a major U-turn just last week, the Secretary of State for Education took the unprecedented step of signing my amendments to the Bill - in effect scrapping her own proposed legislation.

Serious questions must now be asked about those who championed and were ready to support the demolition of a universal statutory framework for children’s social care.

Innovation has been the constant mantra, but there is nothing honorable about pioneering the break-up of children’s legal protection.