The government has made a series of temporary changes to statutory guidance in relation to safeguarding children, in light of the current coronavirus pandemic. The key changes, and links to the guidance, are detailed below.
Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
These changes came into force on 24 April and will be kept under review and remain in force until the Coronavirus Act renewal date on 25 September 2020.
Key changes include:
- Care plan reviews to take place ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’, if the 6-month timeframe is missed.
- The requirement to complete placement plans once a child has been placed within 5 to 10 days changed to ‘as reasonably practicable’.
- A relaxation of the requirement for social workers to visit children in care a week after they commence a placement, and then at 6-week intervals. When visits cannot take place in line with these timescales, they should take place ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable’. ‘Visits’ can take place by telephone, video or other electronic means.
- Children in residential care can be deprived of their liberty under public health powers of the Coronavirus Act 2020 if they are suspected to have Covid-19 or have symptoms. Previously this was only permissible through a court order.
- Change in the requirement for care from staff outside the home to be delivered by someone with the knowledge and skills to do it, to make this only ‘as far as reasonably practicable’.
- Children can be placed in a ‘short break’ placement for up to 75 days, rather than 17 days, with reduced requirements on visits and care plans.
- Emergency foster care placements can last 24 weeks. There is no longer a requirement for temporary foster carers to have a connection with the child.
- The requirement for fostering panels to assess prospective carers has been made optional in order to help speed up the process. Fostering providers are empowered to take decisions based on their own assessment.
- The requirement that adoption agencies establish panels to assess applications and issue advice around the suitability of prospective parents has been removed.
A full outline of these temporary changes is available: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/445/pdfs/uksiem_20200445_en.pdf
Joint communication from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel and Department for Education (DfE)
A joint note from DfE, on behalf of the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care, and the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has been published. It sets out the expectations on the statutory safeguarding partners in relation to serious incident notifications, rapid reviews, serious case reviews and child safeguarding practice reviews in light of coronavirus.
The key points include:
- The duty to provide a notification of all serious child safeguarding incidents within the current timescales (5 working days) remains.
- The requirement to submit rapid reviews to the Panel within 15 working days has been temporarily relaxed, as partners may not be able to be together. The rapid review should expedited where there is a child death or serious injury in the context of abuse and neglect, and Covid-19 is a strongly related factor, and where local safeguarding partners think other partnerships could learn from this.
- Relaxation of pre-publication/publication timings of serious case reviews and child safeguarding practice reviews.
The note can be downloaded here: https://www.proceduresonline.com/resources/covid19/files/jnt_comm_dfe.pdf
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for local authorities on children’s social care
Guidance for local safeguarding partnerships was published on 3 April, recognising that the challenging context means that partners will struggle to meet the full range of statutory duties relating to child protection, safeguarding and care at present.
Key points in the guidance include:
- As far as possible, multi-agency conferences should go ahead, using communication technology where appropriate.
- The duty to provide a notification of all serious child safeguarding incidents within the current timescales (5 working days) remains; however, statutory safeguarding partners should follow local protocols relating to the identification, notification and reviewing of all serious incidents.
- Having a 15-day target for undertaking and reporting a rapid review may not be achievable if partners cannot be drawn together or where other operational demands prevent this. Local safeguarding partnerships should make decisions locally on how quickly they can undertake a rapid review in the current circumstances.
- Undertaking more in-depth Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews within 6 months may not be possible at the moment.
The full guidance is available: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-childrens-social-care-services/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-local-authorities-on-childrens-social-care
Other relevant updated/new guidance
- Supporting vulnerable children and young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
- Information for social workers on coronavirus
- Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for parents and carers to keep children safe online
- Victims of modern slavery: temporary change to the policy on the ‘move-on period’
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for victims of modern slavery
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) and prisons
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for victims of domestic abuse
- COVID-19: Changes to DBS ID checking guidelines