This Act has four main purposes:
(1) Improving decision making, and support for looked after and previously looked after children in England and Wales.
(2) Improving joint work at the local level to safeguard children and enabling better learning at the local and national levels to improve practice in child protection.
(3) Promoting the safeguarding of children by providing for Relationships and Sex Education in schools.
(4) Enabling the establishment of a new regulatory regime specifically for the social work profession in England.
Looked after children
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.
Corporate parenting principles
The term "corporate parent" is generally used to describe the relationship between a local authority and a child who is "looked after" within the meaning of section 22 of the Children Act 1989 ("the 1989 Act"), or between a local authority and a child or young person who was looked after by them and in respect of whom the local authority has ongoing duties and powers under sections 23A to 24D of the 1989 Act. This latter group of children and young people are referred to as "care leavers".
The 1989 Act and legislation made under it impose a range of specific duties on local authorities towards looked after children and care leavers, for example through the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and the Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010. Thus local authorities must assess the child or young persons’ needs, prepare and review care plans (for looked after children) and pathway plans (for care leavers) and provide certain types of assistance. There are also some general duties imposed on local authorities in the discharge of their functions in respect of children and young people. Section 22(3) of the 1989 Act requires a local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children it is looking after. Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 requires a local authority in England to make arrangements to promote cooperation with specified partners with a view to improving the wellbeing of children in their area. Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 further requires a local authority in England to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Section 19 of the Children and Families Act 2014 requires a local authority to have regard to the need to support and involve children and young people when exercising functions in connection with special educational needs and disability.
Care leavers in England
The term "care leavers" is used to describe those children and young people who fall within scope of local authority duties set out in sections 23A to 24D of the 1989 Act.. Under section 30 of the Children and Families Act 2014 a local authority in England must publish information about the provision which it expects to have available for children and young people who have special educational needs or a disability. Schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989 already places a duty on local authorities to publish information about the services it provides under sections 17, 18, 20, 23B to 23D, 24A and 24B and, where they consider appropriate, about the provision of services by others that local authorities have the power to provide under those sections.
Sections 23B and 23C of the 1989 Act impose duties on local authorities to provide assistance and support to relevant children and former relevant children (namely, children who were formerly looked after by a local authority). Included in the assistance to be provided is the duty to appoint a personal adviser if certain criteria are met. Section 23CA of the 1989 Act further requires a local authority to carry out a needs assessment, to prepare a pathway plan and to appoint a personal adviser for a former relevant child, but only if that child has informed the responsible local authority that he wishes to pursue a programme of education and training.
Section 22(3A)-(3C) of the 1989 Act requires a local authority in England to appoint an officer employed by them to be responsible for promoting the educational achievement of children looked after by them. This duty forms part of the wider duty of a local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked after children under s22(3) of the 1989 Act.
There is a linked duty, in section 20 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, on the governing body of a maintained school in England and Wales to designate a person to be responsible for the promotion of the educational achievement of looked after pupils and care leavers. Regulation 3 of the Designated Teacher (Looked after Pupils) (England) Regulations 2009 requires that the designated person must have qualified teacher status.
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.
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. For some years, local authorities in England and Wales have sought court orders under section 25 of the 1989 Act, authorising the placement of looked after children in secure accommodation in Scotland. In September 2016 a High Court judgment (Re X & Y 2016 EWHC 2271 (Fam)) identified that such orders did not have force in Scotland, and consequently that they were unenforceable there.
Safeguarding of children
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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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For information regarding the territorial application of the act and the extent of application see the acts' explanatory notes.
Acts of parliament are continuously updated (revised) to reflect any amendments that subsequent acts make on the original. The pdf we reproduce here is the original, without amendments, it is the act, as first printed. The following link is the latest revised version;
Children and Social Work Act 2017 - explanatory notes
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