The Children and Social Work Bill received Royal Assent on 27th April 2017 – just before the end of the previous Parliament. There was considerable disquiet about some of the proposals such as a controversial plan to allow local authorities to opt out of their duties relating to children’s social care. This was removed before the Bill was finally approved.
The changes contained in the Act will have important implications for the regulation of social work in England, safeguarding of children, and investigations into the death of children. In addition, the Act clarifies and amends the obligations of local authorities as corporate parents.
Part 2 of the Act sees the creation of a new organisation, Social Work England, to take over from the Health and Care Professionals Council as the profession’s regulator. Other sections of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 include:
- safeguarding of children;
- children's social care;
- looked-after children, including care and adoption proceedings;
- the introduction of compulsory relationships education in primary schools;
- the introduction of relationships and sex education in secondary schools, which may take into account the 'religious background' of pupils
The Act abolishes Local Safeguarding Children Boards, and replaces them with ‘local arrangements’. These arrangements will involve the safeguarding partners for a local authority area in England – namely the local authority, the local clinical commissioning group, and the chief officer of police for the area – and any other relevant agencies considered appropriate. The safeguarding partners must also carry out child safeguarding practice reviews, to identify and review serious child safeguarding cases raising issues of importance in their area.
The Act also includes the establishment of a Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. The panel’s role is to identify serious child safeguarding cases in England which raise issues that are complex or of national importance. Where appropriate, the panel will arrange for cases to be reviewed, to identify any improvements that should be made. Events must be notified to the panel if a local authority in England knows or suspects that a child has been abused or neglected, and the child dies or is seriously harmed in the local authority’s area, or while normally resident in the local authority’s area, the child dies or is seriously harmed outside England. The precise relationship between this new panel and the powers of the Children’s Commissioner (section 3 Children Act 2004) is not yet clear.
The content of the relationships and sex education programme is yet to be set, but will cover safety in forming and maintaining relationships, the characteristics of healthy relationships, and how relationships may affect physical and mental health and well-being.
Maintained schools and academies will need to ensure that there is a designated staff member for previously looked after children, which includes those who were cared for under a special guardianship order, and young people who have been adopted.
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