Government extends controversial exemptions for children’s services

Following a consultation, The Department for Education has chosen to extend controversial “flexibilities” given to children’s services as part of emergency coronavirus legislation, but decided against some amendments to adoption regulations.

10/03/21

Government extends controversial exemptions for children’s services

The Department for Education (DfE) has extended some of the “flexibilities” allowed to children’s services, passed as part of emergency coronavirus legislation last year, after a Government consultation on the measures.

The consultation looked at relaxations of local authority duties related to when medical reports are needed in the fostering and adoption process; the continuation of virtual visits and contacts by social workers; and Ofsted inspections – all of which were due to elapse on 31 March 2021.

The Government says analysis of the responses to the consultation indicated that a majority agreed with proposals to extend the flexibilities in relation to virtual visits, medical reports (for fostering and adoption) and the minimum frequency of Ofsted inspections.

However, due to safeguarding concerns raised in the process, the Government says it wants to “give further reflection” to the proposals to amend adoption regulations which would remove the requirement for a full medical examination.

Over 95% of respondents agreed that other relevant healthcare professionals should be considered to complete medical reports for adoptions, but concerns were raised about who these professionals would be and whether they would have the appropriate skills.

The proposal to remove the full examination in adoption received the most disagreement, the Government said, on the grounds of safeguarding concerns.

Respondents said that the flexibilities should only be used “where necessary and in a proportionate, risk assessed way to meet the needs of children, young people and their families”, the Government said.

In the case of visits, respondents said virtual visits should only be used where a face-to-face visit was not possible, but it was important that engagement with the child, young person and their family was maintained.

A number of responses, however, raised concerns that the current departmental guidance, specifically on the use of virtual visits, was not sufficiently robust and did not include enough detail.

“The Government is clear that these flexibilities will only remain in place for as long as they are needed and there currently are no plans to extend them beyond 30 September 2021,” the Government stated in its response to the consultation.

“Their use will continue to be monitored and they will be reviewed in line with the Government roadmap to recovery.”

Read the Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for children's social care services:
www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-childrens-social-care-services

Image credit: U.S. Embassy London

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