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Friday, 03 March 2017

Government in unprecedented climbdown on 'dangerous' vulnerable children proposals

Written by David Hughes

The Government has backed down over plans which critics claimed would have weakened protections for vulnerable children.

Education Secretary Justine Greening has dropped proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill which would have allowed councils to opt out of some regulations in order to test new ways of working.

The U-turn follows concerns from campaigners and the potential for a rebellion on the Tory benches over the issue.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "The Children and Social Work Bill makes huge steps forward in providing vulnerable children with protection to keep them safe, as well as the support they need as they prepare for adulthood.

"It will support and strengthen the social work profession, giving it a dedicated regulator, committed to raising professional standards.

"We have listened to concerns raised about introducing the power to innovate, which would have meant councils could test new approaches in order to support the country's most vulnerable children. In recognition of this we are not taking forward that particular aspect of the Bill."

Ms Greening has now put her name to Labour amendments scrapping the proposals in what her opposite number claimed was "humiliating" and an "unprecedented climbdown".

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: "These dangerous proposals should never have been made in the first place, so it is good news for vulnerable children across the country that the Government has now agreed to our demand that they be abandoned.

"We must learn the lessons from the terrible tragedies of the past. The protections recommended after the appalling cases of Victoria Climbie and Baby P should be enforced, not weakened. There is nothing innovative about allowing councils to opt out of their duties to children who need protection in law.

"It is an unprecedented climbdown for the Secretary of State to sign Labour amendments removing the flagship policy from her own Bill, just days before the Commons could debate it."

Crossbench peer Lord Laming, who led investigations of the Victoria Climbie and Baby P cases, said: "Year on year the number of children being committed to the care of local authorities is steadily increasing and the finances of local authorities, year on year, are being reduced in real terms.

"At a time of widespread concern about the safeguarding and security of very vulnerable children, is this an appropriate time to even think about undermining the integrity of national legislation?"

Tory former children's minister Tim Loughton said the proposals had been a "step too far" and "threatened safeguarding duties to vulnerable children enshrined in primary and secondary legislation".

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