On 27 April 2017, the Children and Social Work Bill received Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament and can be found at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/16/pdfs/ukpga_20170016_en.pdf
This is an important moment in social work in England and will affect all social workers across the country. There are a number of positives in the Act, but BASW also campaigned for several amendments and exclusions throughout the Bill’s passage through parliament. We had notable successes in our campaign and we will continue to have impact, shaping the implementation of the Act through influencing regulations and working to reduce the risks posed to people using services and to social work by some of its provisions.
Regulation of social work in England
BASW and partners successfully campaigned against the first draft proposals in the Bill for a new social work regulator as an ‘Executive arm of government’. This would have placed social work under the direct control of the Secretary of State for Education. The replacement proposal now in the Act sets in train the establishment of the social work-only regulator, ‘Social Work England’, a non-departmental public body (NDPB), replacing regulation by the independent Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).
Social Work England will be the same type of organisation as the regulators in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and the same as the now-defunct General Social Care Council).
BASW members expressed support for a ‘bespoke’ regulator in England in our online survey (and by implication a move away from the HCPC), but members also told us they wanted independence from government. We have campaigned for any new regulator to have the same level of independence from government that has been provided by the HCPC – i.e. independence with accountability to the whole of Parliament, not just to the government of the day.
Social Work England as a NDPB is closer to government control than BASW wanted. Its Chair, Board and Executive will be accountable to government Secretaries of State who will approve appointments to key leadership roles. The Act also enables the Secretaries of State for Education and Health to set post-qualifying improvement standards.
BASW is working with partners and colleagues from the University sector, the Associations of Directors of Adults and Children's Services (ADASS and ADCS), the Principal Social Workers networks, the Trades Unions, the Professional Standards Agency to reduce the risks to independence and professional self-determination in the new form of regulator. We will also:
Host the first UK Standing Conference for Social Work and Social Workers in June 2017 with a focus on regulatory good practice across the UK. We will continue to press for profession-led standards and independent regulation in the long term.
Work strategically to ensure the role and standing of BASW as the incontrovertible professional body for social work is recognised across the sector and within all UK governments.
Defending children’s rights
From the outset BASW called for the removal of the so-called ‘opt out clauses’ that would have allowed local authorities to get permission to selectively opt out of children’s social care statutory provisions, risking further fragmentation and outsourcing of services, and leaving children with a ‘postcode lottery’ of protections and entitlements. The opt out proposals were dropped and we would like to pay tribute to a number of people, including social worker Carolyne Willow (Director of Article 39) who led the campaign against the exemption clauses and created a coalition called Together for Children comprising 53 organisations of which BASW was a member. BASW would also like to commend the shadow minister for Children and Families, Emma Lewell-Buck for her efforts in challenging many aspects of the Bill including the opt out clauses.
BASW is concerned that the Act includes changes to the arrangements concerning children from England and Wales being placed in secure accommodation in Scotland. This was added after the bill had passed through the House of Lords and without any consultation with children, young people and families or those who work with them. This is primarily about lack of adequate provision in England and Wales and runs counter to the Government’s own policy about children not being placed at long distances from their local communities.
BASW also fought very hard to get the ‘Dubs amendment’ incorporated into the Act given that the Government had committed to this and then appeared to renege on it. This was a commitment that the UK would take 3000 unaccompanied refugee children from within mainland Europe. Whilst this was not accepted by the Government as part of the Act, latterly there has been an admission by ministers of an “administrative error” which will result in the UK taking an additional 130 unaccompanied child refugees from within Europe. BASW will continue to campaign on these issues.
Positive aspects of the Bill
On the positive side, we welcome the introduction of statutory relationships and sex education in schools into the Bill late in its passage. This was an important win for children after many years of resistance to this from government.
BASW broadly welcomes greater clarity to the rights and services which children young people and those who care for them including parents and relatives should expect. Of particular significance are new developments for young people leaving care but we do have some reservations that they risk becoming a token gesture if they are not firmly backed up by appropriate funding.
This briefing does not cover all aspects of the Act. We encourage members to look out for further information from BASW as we engage with the creation of regulations and guidance associated with the Act.
Join with colleagues and find out more!
BASW England will be holding its annual conference ‘Celebrating Success – we have the knowledge’ on 23 May 2017 in Leicester where speakers will be discussing the implications of the Act on social work. There is still all to play for in the development of statutory guidance to the Act and how BASW and its members can have influence going forward. We have found strength in working with many partners from across the sector and will continue to do so and urge those with an interest to get involved with BASW.