Yesterday, the House of Lords voted to reject the government's proposed 'power to innovate', one of the most controversial measures in its Children and Social Work Bill. The proposals would allow local authorities to apply to the Secretary of State to be exempted from, or have relaxed, elements of children’s social care law for up to six years in order to try out new ways of doing things.
NCB, along with many others in the children’s sector, while acknowledging the need for innovation in children’s social care, had significant concerns about the proposals as drafted. In the end, the Lords agreed that the measures fell short on many of the same issues: there continued to be a lack of evidence for the need for such a broad measure – almost any part of social care law was covered; the proposals risked creating a postcode lottery, where a child living in one local authority would have different rights and entitlements to another living next door; and the government’s plans for monitoring the ‘power to innovate’ pilots were not at all clear.
It remains to be seen whether the government will return with adjusted proposals or go back to the drawing board. Whatever the case, here are four things NCB will be looking out for in any future plans:
The rights and entitlements of children
Firstly, no move to enable local authorities to try out new ways of working should undermine the rights and entitlements of children using social care services. It was unclear whether the government’s original plans would provide children living in a pilot area with a right of redress if they wished to continue to receive a service that they might have received if they’d been living elsewhere. The notion of children in different parts of the country being protected by a different set of rights in law remains concerning.
A robust monitoring framework
Secondly, any approach to innovation must be underpinned by a robust monitoring framework. Three years – the proposed length of a ‘power to innovate’ pilot – is a long time in the life of a child, and it was concerning that the Bill did not include robust procedures for monitoring impact over that period. This isn’t good enough if there is a risk that the approach could have a detrimental impact on the life of a child.
Improving outcomes for children and families
Thirdly, improving outcomes for children and families should be the goal of innovation. It would not be acceptable for a mediocre local authority to have the law relaxed so that they can make efficiency savings while delivering the same mediocre outcomes. Government was clear that this was not their intention, but the Bill, as drafted, would have allowed for that. Approaches to innovation must be assessed and monitored in terms of improvement and against a clear outcomes framework for children using social care services.
Voices of children’
Finally, the voices of children and young people, families, and those who work with them, must be at the heart of approaches to innovation. The measures as drafted included no requirement for children and young people affected by proposals to be consulted and their views taken into account.
These will be the principles on which NCB scrutinises any future government proposals, and, if they choose to bring the measures back when the Bill moves to the House of Commons.
You can follow the progress of the bill here>