The Department for Education (DfE) has scrapped controversial “myth busting” guidance sent to councils after children’s rights charity Article 39 took legal action against it.
The DfE said it removed the guidance from circulation to avoid “divert[ing] time and public money to litigation.”
Article 39 launched a judicial review into the legality of the document last month, as reported by The Big Issue. The charity explained it was concerned by the muddying of protections around vulnerable children which seems to conflict with existing law and regulation – and could present serious risk to children in care.
While regulation advises local authorities that foster carers must receive at least one unannounced home visit a year as well as planned visits and support from social workers, according to statutory guidance, the DfE’s myth-buster refers to just one annual visit as the minimum.
The document also advised councils that visits to children in long-term foster care could be reduce to just twice a year – despite the law saying this can only be done with the child’s consent.
The publication seemed to relax rules around children who have run away. Councils were advised that they could be offered a visit from a social worker once they return home, but existing statutory guidance says this offer is mandatory.
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Lawyers for the charity said the guidance could deprive children of the “fundamental support and protection” they need.
Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi initially refused to take sections of the document out of circulation, claiming that the document simply clarified council duties, “helped practitioners provide targeted support for children and families”, and “did not seek to change anything in the current statutory framework for children’s social care”.
Article 39 director Carolyne Willow said: “It’s deeply disappointing that the Children’s Minister didn’t respond to our serious concerns months ago but what matters is that the document has now been withdrawn and the risks to children and young people minimised. We are relieved and delighted that children’s rights have prevailed.
“There is of course the possibility that social workers and local authority managers have already used the guide and we hope that councils will quickly review and rectify any removal or reduction of support.”
The DfE have committed to notifying local authorities that their guide has been withdrawn. They have confirmed that should they have any further plans in the future to issue a guide that they will follow an inclusive consultation process which will see Article 39, relevant organisations and young people who may be affected by it included.
Oliver Studdert, solicitor at Simpson Millar, representing Article 39, said: “It is absolutely right that this guide has been withdrawn. It is unfortunate that it has taken the issuing of court proceedings to achieve this, but it is reassuring that the Secretary of State has now acknowledged the concerns of Article 39 and other charities and experts concerning the removal of vital statutory safeguards for vulnerable children and care leavers.”