The government has amended several sets of regulations with a view to assisting the children’s social care sector during the coronavirus pandemic but the move has been strongly criticised by a children’s rights charity.
The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 apply to England only and will cease to have effect on 25 September.
The explanatory note says the regulations amend:
- The Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 which set out the process for assessing the suitability of people to adopt a child and the suitability of children to be adopted. The new regulations "remove the duty on adoption agencies to refer cases to the adoption panel, make some amendments to the adopter approval process, to enable information that currently has to be collected during stage 1 of the approval process to be collected during stage 2, and relax some timescales within which adoption agencies must take steps.”
- The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 which set out the requirements of the care planning process. The new regulations "make it possible for any person to be approved as a local authority foster carer for a temporary period (not just a person who is a relative, friend or person connected to the child) and extend the length of that period from 16 to 24 weeks. They also increase the length of time a foster carer can be approved as an emergency foster carer to 24 weeks. A number of timescales within which local authorities must take steps are also relaxed.”
- The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 which set out the process for approvals as local authority foster parents. The new regulations "relax some timescales within which fostering agencies must take steps and remove the duty on fostering service providers to refer cases to the fostering panel".
- The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015 to ensure that they do not prohibit a child being deprived of their liberty in a children’s home in accordance with an exercise of powers under Schedule 21 to the Coronavirus Act 2020. A number of timescales are also relaxed by the new regulations.
- The Residential Family Centres Regulations 2002 to relax some timescales and to make it clear that interviews need not be conducted face-to-face.
- Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Fees and Frequency of Inspections) (Children’s Homes etc) Regulations 2015 to omit regulation 27 which sets out the frequency by which premises must be inspected.
- The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005, the Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (Inspection of Local Authorities) Regulations 2007 and the Children Act 2004 (Joint Area Reviews) Regulations 2015 to relax timescales within which local authorities must take steps.
The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 Regulations also include a number of savings provisions to ensure that some amendments made by these regulations continue to apply in certain circumstances after the expiry of the amendments on 25 September 2020.
The Secretary of State for Education is required to review the effectiveness of the amendments made during the period in which they have effect.
Article 39, a children’s rights charity, described the changes as “unprecedented”. Its director, Carolyne Willow, said: “The idea that local authorities have been clamouring to remove fundamental legal protections from vulnerable children during the middle of a global pandemic is just not credible. This is deregulation on steroids. It is soul-destroying that so much time and effort has been put into systematically eroding the rights of children.
“Much of this disrupter’s wish-list has been in the public domain, one way or another, for at least four years. It’s an insult to children to suggest that COVID-19 is the cause of this.
“Having spent hours going through the statutory instrument line-by-line, I haven’t been able to find a single new protection for children. The whole document is about taking away, diminishing and undermining what has been built up for children over many decades.”