Changes to responsibilities towards children-in-care have provoked concern among some experts in the field. Temporary changes to 10 regulations relating to the safeguarding, care and protection of vulnerable children and young people have been introduced by the government as part of its response to Covid-19.
The changes – currently planned to be in force until September 2020 – ease some legal protections and remove others.
Among the changes – reported by Community Care – are:
- Visits to children-in-care: The requirement for social workers to visit children in care a week after they start a placement – and then at six-week intervals – has been removed. In its place is an instruction that, if these visits can’t take place in line with these timescales, they should take place ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’. These ‘visits’ can take place by telephone, video or electronically.
- Children’s care reviews: Reviews of looked-after children’s care – following the first two reviews – can now take place when ‘reasonably practicable’. These subsequent reviews were previously required to take place at least every six months.
- Emergency foster care placements: The maximum length of these is now 24 weeks – extended from 16. The requirement for temporary foster carers to have a connection with the child has been removed.
- Fostering panel assessment: The requirement for fostering panels to assess prospective carers is now optional. Instead, fostering providers are empowered to take decisions based on their own assessment.
- Adoption panel assessment: Also removed is the requirement that adoption agencies establish panels that assess applications and issue advice around the suitability of prospective parents. Other checks on prospective parents have also been relaxed.
Of these changes it’s the last two that may be the most relevant to LGBT+ potential parents. Our community carries with it a historical expectation of discrimination – YouGov polling in 2013 found that 8 in 10 lesbian, gay and bisexual people expect to encounter barriers to become foster carers because of their sexual orientation. If the need for a broader voice to inform recommendations of adoption or fostering assessment approval is removed, how can agencies reassure LGBT+ applicants that they won’t be discriminated against?
In 2019 a number of adoption agencies consulted New Family Social, concerned that key decision-makers on their adoption panels were falling short in their legal duties to fairly assess LGBT+ prospective parents. By removing the requirement to establish and hold panels, there’s a clear risk this prejudice will go unchecked, ultimately meaning that children-in-care will be denied parents from the widest possible pool. New Family Social strongly urges agencies to seek out technological solutions that allow the retention of panel assessments involving voices from across the community the agency serves.