Attempts by the Government over the past four years to water down safeguards around vulnerable children have been pushed through under the guise of Covid-19 emergency powers, a councillor has warned.
A raft of changes will see a number of important interventions designed to safeguard children changed from set timescales to ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’. The moves will, according to Labour councillors, put children’s safety at risk and undermine their human rights.
Worryingly, key organisations who work in the children’s sector confirmed over the weekend that they were not privately consulted before the changes were made. Nor was the Children’s Commissioner for England, who has a statutory duty to promote and protect children’s rights, including for those in care and other vulnerable children – she was merely informed of the changes.
Labour’s spokesperson for children’s services, Councillor Bob Webb, expressed his concerns saying: “The Labour Group is calling on the council leader to make a clear statement that these changes, sneaked through by the Government after four years of failed attempts, will be resisted and ignored by City of York Council. We are sure he will be as concerned as we are but it is absolutely imperative that as the UK’s first Human Rights City, York takes a stand and is clear that we reject this slackening of safeguards around vulnerable children.
“These measures were drawn up over decades, some in response to the deaths of children like Victoria Climbié in 2000 when adequate safeguards did not exist. If we agreed then that they were fundamental rights or basic responsibilities they do not stop being so just because there is a public health crisis.
“I’m very disturbed by the removal of even basic requirements like the need for social workers to check in with children in care every six weeks. Now especially, when schools are not in every case able to provide that watchful eye as they normally would, reducing social workers’ oversight and undermining children’s access to trusted adults is the wrong way to go.
“Having carefully considered each of the many approved changes, none of them add to or enhance the rights of the child, indeed many remove or diminish them. I think people will find it insulting and insensitive that these changes are being made during the coronavirus pandemic when agencies are already less able to track what is going on with some vulnerable children when they could be at greater, not less, risk”.
Cllr. Webb said although the changes are time-limited, recent efforts by the Government to implement many of them suggests this is a trial run preceding permanent changes, not least in the anticipation of further austerity measures following the Covid-19 pandemic.