Government consults on extending some COVID-19 children’s social care flexibilities, will allow most to lapse

The Department for Education has launched a consultation on extending some of the measures in the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 that were introduced to provide local authorities and children’s social care providers with temporary flexibilities during COVID-19.

In the consultation paper the DfE said the original amendments were temporary and a majority of the measures would be allowed to expire on 25 September 2020.

It added: “Given the lower level of coronavirus (COVID-19) now present, there is a significantly reduced need for local authorities and providers to use any of these flexibilities and therefore the majority of these regulations should expire as planned.

“However, the Government believes that there may be circumstances in which some services continue to face specific and exceptional challenges into the autumn, where continued availability of a small number of flexibilities, drawing on the experience of and evidence gathering of the last few months, may still be appropriate.

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“And as more children are seen by schools, and social distancing eases further and hitherto hidden harms come to light, we must be prepared for the potential additional demands that may still be placed on services.”

The DfE said it was only proposing to extend regulations where there was a continued need for the flexibilities in order to provide effective support for children involved with children’s social care services during the pandemic.

“Furthermore, we have updated guidance to say we expect that no new application of vast majority of flexibilities should be needed,” it added.

The Department’s monitoring data suggests that the regulations are being used “Infrequently”.

The regulations the DfE is proposing to extend address the following points:

  1. Medical reports: the consultation paper proposes to amend the time frame in which medical information needs to be provided. The requirement for medical information to be provided will not be removed, but additional time will be given.
  2. Virtual visits: the DfE proposes to continue to allow virtual contact/visits where a face to face visit is not possible, for example because households are being required to self-isolate due to a case or suspected case of coronavirus.
  3. Ofsted inspections: the paper proposes to continue the suspension of the frequency regulation that sets out the minimum number of Ofsted inspections required in various settings until 31 March 2021. “This will better allow Ofsted to provide the most assurance, to the sector and the wider public, about the safety and care of children enabling them to carry out as many visits to as many settings as possible based on the criteria set out.... Failure to extend the revocation of Regulation 27 would reinstate the prescribed inspection intervals, despite Ofsted having lost several months of the inspection year.”

All other amendments to the regulations introduced on 24 April will be allowed to lapse on 25 September.

The consultation runs until 5 August 2020.

The original regulations proved controversial, with the Children’s Commissioner of England among those to criticise their introduction.

Last month children’s rights charity Article 39 was granted permission for a judicial review of the DfE’s removal of these legal protections.

A High Court hearing is expected to take place on 27 and 28 July.

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