There are obligations placed on local authorities to fulfil certain core duties to children who are considered to be ‘In Need’. A ‘Child in Need’ is defined as a person who is under 18 years of age, is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services; or whose health or development is likely to be significantly impaired without the provision or services; or a child who is disabled. Under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, the duties owed by a local authority include the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need, within their area and to promote the upbringing of these children by their families, so far as is consistent with that duty. This is to be achieved by the provision of a range and level of services that are appropriate to those children’s particular needs.
However, proposals are now being made under the Children and Social Work Bill which would ultimately allow local authorities to opt out of some of these core statutory duties. The result would be that governments will be able to exempt local authorities from some of their duties to children in need following an application from the local authority. If permission is granted, they will be exempt from their duties for 3 years. The idea is that the local authority will spend those three years trying to identify alternative, more efficient and “innovative” ways of working that don’t exactly tie in with current social care legislation. If necessary, the local authority may be able to apply to extend the period of exemption for a further 3 years.
A key aspect of these proposals is that its application and impact will ultimately depend on where the relevant child lives. Therefore, if a child lives within a borough where the local authority has become exempt from their statutory duties, the rights of that child will also be in danger. Implementation of these proposals runs the unreasonable risk of damaging the legal basis of child protection in the UK and subjecting many vulnerable children to even further vulnerability.
We at Goodman Ray are seriously concerned about the rights of children and the potential for those rights to be undermined by these changes.
Novlet Levy (Trainee Solicitor )