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Children and Social Work Act 2017

Policy background

  1. The Act provides the legislative framework to support a programme of reform in children’s social care set out in the Government’s July 2016 policy paper Putting Children First (opens in new window).
  2. It also supports the Government’s policy to promote the safeguarding of children through the provision of Relationships and Relationships and Sex Education (opens in new window).

Looked after children

  1. Local authorities have a wide range of duties to children they look after and to those leaving their care. The Act sets out a framework of corporate parenting principles that overlay these existing responsibilities towards looked after children and those leaving care to make clear what it means for the authority as a whole to act as a good parent. It also requires local authorities to publish their offer of support to young people leaving their care, and removes the requirement for certain care leavers to be in education and training in order to obtain support from a personal adviser and get other help from the local authority. This is part of a wider programme of work to support care leavers (opens in new window).
  2. The Act amends the current considerations of the court when making decisions about the long-term placement of children. The considerations now include such provisions of the child’s Care Plan which assess the child’s current and future needs, including any current and future needs resulting from the impact of any harm that the child suffered (or was likely to have suffered); and in adoption decisions, considerations now include the child’s relationship with any prospective adopter. The Act also extends the existing duties of local authorities and schools to promote the educational attainment of children so that these duties also cover children who have been adopted or placed in other long-term arrangements. This is part of a wider programme of reform for adoption (opens in new window).
  3. The Act also closes a gap in the existing legislation, establishing a statutory basis whereby English and Welsh local authorities may place looked after children in secure accommodation in Scotland.

Safeguarding of children

  1. Currently, joint working at the local level to protect children is coordinated through Local Safeguarding Children Boards in each local authority, and where serious incidents of child harm occur, reviews are conducted at a local level. The Act reframes the approach to local safeguarding by giving the three key safeguarding partners – the local authority, health services, and the police – greater autonomy to define the approach to be taken locally and the appropriate geographical reach of that approach. It also makes provision for the establishment of a national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. Where cases raise issues of national importance the Panel will, where they consider it appropriate, arrange for these to be reviewed under their supervision and must publish either the report, or if they consider it inappropriate to do so, any information relating to improvements that should be made following the review that they consider it appropriate to publish.

Other provisions relating to children

  1. The Act extends the range of protections afforded to those who have made a protected disclosure – commonly referred to as whistle blowers. Currently, employment law protects employees in children’s social care (among other sectors) from discrimination by their employers. The Act extends these protections by conferring a regulation-making power on the Secretary of State to secure that an applicant for a job in children’s social care who has previously made a protected disclosure cannot be discriminated against in recruitment decisions.
  2. The Secretary of State currently has powers under the Education Act 1996 to intervene where a local authority is not performing its social care functions to an adequate standard. The Act extends the Government’s current powers to intervene where local authorities are underperforming to Combined Authorities constituted under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

Relationships, sex and PSHE education

  1. The Education Acts of 1996 and 2002 and the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 set out schools' current duties in relation to the teaching of sex education and PSHE. The Act provides for the amendment of these current duties, and to legislation set out in subsections (6) and (4) of sections 34 and 35 respectively, to make it mandatory to teach Relationships Education in primary schools, Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools, and provides a power to make it mandatory to teach Personal Social Health and Economic Education in all schools.

Social workers

  1. Social Workers in England are currently regulated alongside 15 other health and care professions by the Health and Care Professions Council (‘the HCPC’). As well as maintaining a professional register, the HCPC sets profession-specific standards of proficiency and generic standards of conduct, performance and ethics, standards for continuing professional development, and standards of education and training that define recognised professional qualifications. The HCPC also investigates and takes action on complaints relating to registered professionals.
  2. The Act responds to reviews of social work education by Sir Martin Narey and Professor David Croisdale-Appleby by making provision to establish a specialist regulator of social workers in England: Social Work England. Social Work England role will include keeping a register of social workers in England; determining eligibility for registration; and setting professional standards and standards of education or training for those who wish to become social workers in England; and determine an individual social worker’s fitness to practice. The Act also amends existing legislation, or provides for amendments to be made, in order to transfer the function of approving courses for approved mental health professionals from the HCPC to Social Work England and in order to allow for Social Work England to specify training for best interest assessors. This is part of a wider programme of social care reform (opens in new window).
  3. The Act also makes consequential and minor amendments relating to these changes, including replacing provisions in existing legislation relating to social work training, bringing together the existing framework governing the social work profession into a single body of legislation.

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