Ministers' U-turn over 'bonfire of children's rights'

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education and social affairs reporter

image sourceBrianAJackson

Ministers are to climb down over a controversial bill, dubbed a "bonfire of children's rights".

The government is backing down over key parts of the Children and Social Work Bill that would have let local councils set aside children's rights, after an intervention by Lord Laming.

The chairman of the Victoria Climbie inquiry met Education Secretary Justine Greening to oppose the changes.

She is now understood to have agreed to back an opposition amendment.

The amendment, tabled by Labour, is due to be added to the bill for when it goes into report stage in the House of Commons next week, sources have told the BBC.

The move followed a meeting between Ms Greening and Lord Laming, former Lord Chancellor Lord MacKay, and the chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler.

The legal duties due to be affected by the bill related to nearly all the social care services children received from local authorities laid down in numerous acts of Parliament.

These included:

  • statutory rights on child protection
  • family support
  • children's homes and fostering
  • support to care leavers
  • services for disabled children

Ministers had argued councils should be allowed to set them aside so they could innovate and improve the services they offered for vulnerable children.

'Unprecedented change'

But the government has now agreed to support amendments tabled by shadow children's minister Emma Lewell-Buck to remove the proposals from the bill by scrapping the relevant clauses.

Once the government has signed the amendments, the proposals will be formally removed from the future legislation.

About 50 organisations publicly opposed the proposed exemptions - including the British Association of Social Workers, The Care Leavers' Association, Women's Aid, Liberty and the National Association of People Abused in Childhood.

Carolyne Willow, director of Article 39 - a group formed to oppose the bill, said: "It is an enormous relief that legal protection for vulnerable children and young people will stay intact across the country.

"I hope children and young people get to hear that so many care leavers, parents, carers, social workers, academics, children's homes, parliamentarians, lawyers, paediatricians, charities, trade unions and campaigners fought for their rights for months.

"And that ministers admitted a mistake and did right by them."

'Terrible tragedies'

The Department for Education has been contacted for a response to the U-turn.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner called on the government to clarify its position.

"If ministers are prepared to abandon this dangerous proposal and accept our amendments, then that is good news for vulnerable children across the country who were in danger of losing basic protection from the law, but if not then we intend to put it to a vote.

"We need to learn the lessons from the terrible tragedies of the past rather than lay the ground for the next scandal.

"The protections that were recommended after the appalling cases of Victoria Climbie and Baby P need to be enforced, not weakened."

Earlier, Prof Eileen Munroe, whose work on reforming social work was the inspiration for the bill, also publicly opposed the proposals, saying they presented a "serious danger".

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