This page summarises the changes brought about by Part 1 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, and brings together useful guidance and commentary on sections within this. This resource will be updated when final guidance and regulations relating to the Act, such as Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance and the content of the relationships and sex education curriculum, have been published.

Introduction

The Children and Social Work Act was passed by the Conservative Government in 2017, having been launched in 2016 in the House of Lords by Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the School System Lord Nash and championed through the House of Commons by then Minister for Children and Families Edward Timpson. The Bill was published with no prior public consultation.

Mark Riddell has since been named by then Children’s Minister Robert Goodwill as implementation advisor for care leavers, meaning he “will work closely with local authorities as they drive forward the new duties introduced” by the Children and Social Work Act as they relate to care leavers.

Helpful overall reading

Children and Young People Now has produced a very helpful overview of the Act and key responses to it.

NSPCC has published a briefing on the government's proposed changes to Working Together to Safeguard Children


The main import of the Act - for children in care and care leavers

NB For clear legal definitions of a child in care and care leavers, see Child Law Advice.

Corporate Parenting Principles

The Act introduces Corporate Parenting Principles which are intended to change local authority culture so that all staff and departments consider the impact of their work on children and young people for whom the local authority is the corporate parent, as well as on those under 25 who were previously in the care of a local authority.

The Corporate Parenting Principles state that English local authorities (including county, district, borough and combined authorities) must ‘have regard to the need’ to take certain actions in their work for children in care and care leavers. These are:

(a) to act in the best interests, and promote the physical and mental health and well-being, of those children and young people;

(b) to encourage those children and young people to express their views, wishes and feelings;

(c) to take into account the views, wishes and feelings of those children and young people;

(d) to help those children and young people gain access to, and make the best use of, services provided by the local authority and its relevant partners;

(e) to promote high aspirations, and seek to secure the best outcomes, for those children and young people;

(f) for those children and young people to be safe, and for stability in their home lives, relationships and education or work;

(g) to prepare those children and young people for adulthood and independent living.

Helpful reading

- The Local Government Association's resource pack on the Corporate Parenting Principles

  

The Local Offer for care leavers

English local authorities must publish a ‘Local Offer’ for care leavers, informing care leavers about services they provide under the Children Act 1989, plus anything else they or others offer that ‘may assist care leavers in, or in preparing for, adulthood and independent living’ including services related to:

  • health and well-being
  • relationships
  • education and training
  • employment
  • accommodation
  • participation in society

Helpful reading

- The Local Government Association's resource pack on support for care leavers

- Surrey has created a Twitter profile to promote its local offer.

Some areas are working to listen to care leavers to produce more standardised information and services based on what a wide group of care leavers want. 

Directors of Children’s Services in the North East region are developing a Memorandum of Understanding to “work towards all care leavers in the region having access to the things they have told us are most important to them, regardless of where they live.”

  

Personal Advisor up to the age of 25

This adds a new provision to the Children Act 1989, extending the entitlement to a Personal Advisor (PA) beyond the age of 21 to all care leavers up to 25 years old, whether or not they are in education or training. Local authorities now have a responsibility to make the offer of a PA at least once a year to care leavers, and for them to carry out a needs assessment and to prepare a pathway plan for the care leaver.

Helpful reading

It is difficult to anticipate how many more care leavers will take up this entitlement, how many more PAs might be needed and in which areas. Various organisations working with care leavers have identified that the system is already stretched, and that care leavers need support beyond current statutory provision to successfully become independent (for example the Princes Trust research programme From Care To Independence).

Implementation of the above provisions

Government guidance on the implementation of the Corporate Parenting Principles, the Local Offer and the extension of the PA entitlement has undergone public consultation and should be published soon.

The government intends regulation relating to the above provisions to come into force on April 1st 2018. The Department for Education is due to review the role of the PA, including training, knowledge and skills.

Responses to the government's consultation on guidance for the Corporate Parenting Principles, the Local Offer for care leavers and the extension of Personal Advisor support to care leavers up to the age of 25:

The Local Government Association

The Association of Directors of Children's Services

 

The education of previously looked after children

The Children and Social Work Act contains several provisions intended to support the educational achievement of previously looked after children. A ‘previously looked after’ child is a child who was in the care of the local authority but was then immediately adopted, became subject to a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order. The Act addresses disparities between the educational support offered to looked after children and previously looked after children, and between the duties of state-maintained schools and academies towards currently and previously looked after children.

It stipulates:

  • State-maintained schools must now have a designated staff member responsible for promoting the educational achievement of previously looked after children as well as children currently in care
  • Academies must designate a member of staff to promote the educational achievement of both children currently and previously in care
  • A local authority must make available information and advice promoting the educational attainment of previously looked after children - to their school's 'designated member of staff' and people with parental responsibility

 

Care and adoption proceedings

This section of the Act extends the issues a court or adoption agency must consider when making decisions about the care or adoption of a child. It came into force on 31st October 2017.

It extends the definition of the 'permanence plan' that courts must consider when making a care or supervision order for a child. Part of a Section 31 plan, the permanence plan that informs placement decisions now incorporates both:

  • The long-term plan for where the child will live (with parents, relatives or friends; with an adoptive family; in other long-term care)
  • The impact on the child of any harm they have suffered or are likely to suffer, their corresponding needs and how the long-term plan will address those needs

When considering placing a child for adoption, courts and adoption agencies must now have regard to the child's relationship with prospective adopters, as well as relatives. The full list of considerations is in the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Then Children's Minister Edward Timpson clarified in parliamentary debate of this provision:

“It is not a matter of children who have no relationship with the prospective adopters, and have not met them or had time to get to know them. It is about those who are already placed, where there is already a relationship."

 

Placing children in secure accommodation over the border

This provision allows local authorities in England and Wales to place children in secure accommodation in Scotland, and those in Scotland to place children in secure accommodation in England. It aims to solve the problem of insufficient places in local secure accommodation by giving authorities permission to look further afield when placing a child.

Helpful reading

Due to disparities in law between England and Scotland, it means children being subject to slightly different entitlements and requirements once they have been placed over the border.

Article 39 published a useful briefing on concerns about this provision as part of a proposed amendment to the Bill (a sunset clause) which was rejected.


The main import of the Act - for safeguarding

The Children and Social Work Act makes several significant changes for safeguarding at both local and national levels, by amending the Children Act 2004.

 

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

The Secretary of State will establish a new national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, which will identify and review local safeguarding cases it judges to be complex or of national significance. The purpose of the review is "to identify any improvements that should be made by safeguarding partners or others to safeguard and promote the welfare of children".

A local authority must notify the panel of any instance where a child dies or is seriously harmed in their area, or where a child usually resident in their area dies or is seriously harmed outside of England. The panel has the power to request any information that will help it in its review.

 

Local safeguarding arrangements

The Act effectively abolishes Local Safeguarding Children Boards, removing the Children Act 2004 duties relating to them. In their place, it puts duties on three 'safeguarding partners' - the local authority, any Clinical Commissioning Groups operating in the area and the Chief Officer of Police - to make safeguarding arrangements that respond to the needs of children in their area. 

Two or more areas can also combine their safeguarding arrangements, and one partner can undertake functions on behalf of the corresponding partner within the combined area (eg one Clinical Commissioning Group may carry out the functions of another Clinical Commissioning Group for the overall area). 

Their main responsibilities are:

  • To involve 'relevant agencies' in their area
  • To identify and supervise the review of serious safeguarding cases in their area
  • To publish their local safeguarding arrangements
  • To arrange for independent scrutiny of their local safeguarding arrangements
  • To publish a report every 12 months on what they and the relevant agencies have done as a result of the local safeguarding arrangements and how effective the arrangements have been in practice

 

Child death reviews

This section of the Act provides for the functioning of child death review partners in a local authority area. Much of the detail on the constitution and proceedings of the review partners will be clarified in updated guidance. The child death review partners must arrange for the review of every death of a child usually resident in their area, and of children not usually resident in their area if they consider it appropriate. 

The purpose of the review is:

  • to identify any matters relating to the death or deaths that are relevant to the welfare of children in the area or to public health and safety
  • to consider whether it would be appropriate for anyone to take action in relation to any matters identified.

As with the local safeguarding partners, two or more areas can combine their functions and partners can undertake work on behalf of other partners in the combined area.

Helpful reading

Concerns have been expressed that in stipulating only three agencies as safeguarding partners, new local safeguarding arrangements leave many settings - including schools and children's charities - with less formal involvement in keeping children safe and put previously well-established working relationships across the community at risk.

- The Association of Independent LSCB Chairs has gathered together several useful briefings on changes to child safeguarding arrangements

- Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 will, when finalised, clarify important detail for the implementation of new safeguarding arrangements

 

Protecting whistle-blowers

The Act extends the protection against employment discrimination for whistle-blowers in the NHS to whistle-blowers in children's social care roles. Regulations to prevent discrimination against people who have made protected disclosures, and compensate workers where it occurs, will be created that apply to both local authorities and other providers of statutory social care services. Discrimination is determined to be where an employer "refuses the applicant's application or in some other way treats the applicant less favourably than it treats or would treat other applicants for the same position."

 

Combined authorities

Section 33 of the Act simply extends the power of the Secretary of State to secure proper performance from individual local authorities to combined authorities.

 


The main import of the Act - for the curriculum

 

Relationships and sex education in England schools

Chapter 4 of the Act puts a duty on all primary schools to provide relationships education and on all secondary schools to provide relationships and sex education. Previously, only state-maintained secondary schools had any obligation in this regard.

Relationships / relationships and sex education must be appropriate to pupils' age and religious background. Schools will be required to publish their policy on their relationships and sex education.

The content of both relationships education and sex and relationships education must include:

(i) safety in forming and maintaining relationships,

(ii) the characteristics of healthy relationships, and

(iii) how relationships may affect physical and mental health and well-being

Then Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening appointed Ian Bauckham to lead the consultation on how these subjects should be taught. This consultation is currently underway.

Helpful reading

- The Sex Education Forum has published a short briefing on the implications of the new SRE provisions

  

Personal, Social, Health and Economic education

This section also allows the Secretary of State to require (via regulations) that Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) is provided in all primary and secondary schools in England. The detail of this education would be clarified by consultation and statutory guidance issued to schools, and the new regulations could amend previous education legislation. 

Helpful reading

- The Department for Education's public consultation on the content and teaching of these subjects is open until 12th February 2018.

- The Department has published a statement explaining their rationale for making relationships and sex education statutory while only creating the possibility of making PSHE statutory, and for keeping the provisions of the Act relatively broad and leaving much of the detail to be decided after consultation or by individual schools

Several organisations feel that the Act should have gone further and made PSHE in its entirety a statutory part of the curriculum in all schools. 

- The PSHE Association, supported by many organisations, continues to gather evidence and campaign for up to date, high-quality statutory PSHE education