Ministers forced to U-turn on child protection laws

The Labour Party, trade unions and social work experts have forced the government into a major U-turn on its plans to weaken child protection and give private companies a route into social services.

Proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill would have allowed each council to ‘opt out’ of national requirements on child protection.

The rules, such as background checks of foster families and allocation of a social worker to every vulnerable child, had been put in place after the investigations into the deaths of child abuse victims Victoria Climbie and Baby P.

Social work professor Eileen Munro, who had been cited by government as a supporter of the plans, spoke out against them, describing them as potentially dangerous.

Education Secretary Justine Greening signed amendments to her own bill, tabled by Labour’s shadow education team, and tried to hide news of the U-turn by issuing a comment to a trade journal at 10pm the night before.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner (a former UNISON workplace rep who worked as a home carer) said that Ms Greening had “been reduced to sneaking out this humiliating announcement in the middle of the night in the hope that no-one will notice.”

“We will now press the government to rule out further privatisation of children’s services and honour their commitments to refugee children.”

The proposals had also been defeated in the Lords but was reinstated by the Government during committee stage in the Commons. The Bill is back in the Commons on Tuesday 7th March.

UNISON is a member of the coalition ‘Together for Children’ and has played a significant role in leading the fight back to show how dangerous and unwanted these proposals are. UNISON’s survey of 3,000 social workers (cited in the various Parliamentary debates) back in autumn 2016 demonstrated that the majority of social workers opposed the plans and also that they thought that the exemption clauses would put more children at risk.  UNISON’s social work members have also been contacting their MPs about it.

UNISON’s national team believe that the climb down on the bill should also make it harder for social work services to be privatised. The next challenge for UNISON is to try and stop the introduction of the National Assessment and Accreditation System.

Watch this space for updates, and please encourage social work colleagues not yet in UNISON to join.