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Briefing Note: The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 202028.04.20

The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

by Jacqueline Thomas QC, 27 April 2020

On Friday 24 April 2020, the Government passed a statutory instrument making potentially significant changes to the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010, and the obligations on local authorities imposed by those regulations. In addition to the amendments to the 2010 Regulations, other regulations were amended including the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, and the Fostering Services Regulations 2011. This briefing note summarises the main changes to the requirements for local authorities.

  1. The regulations provide for visits, interviews, reviews, and meetings to be conducted by telephone, video-link or other electronic means, in relation to a number of areas, including looked after child reviews and visits to children.
  2. Adoption panels may now be made up of one independent person, and there is no legal obligation to refer to the panel; the referral has become discretionary (reg. 4). The panel may proceed if information requested has not yet been obtained, including criminal record checks.
  3. The requirement to take action within 7 days following notification of a private fostering arrangement has been replaced by a requirement to take action as soon as is reasonably practicable (reg. 5).
  4. The most significant changes are to the Care Planning Regs 2010. Placement no longer has to be with a “connected” person, and both the definition of and the term connected person have been removed. Assessments do not have to be carried out within a time limit, but can be done as soon as reasonably practicable. Temporary placement with a foster parent where the terms of that approval are not consistent with the placement, can now be for no more than 24 weeks, rather than 6 days.
  5. Temporary approval of a person as a foster carer is now for 24 weeks, instead of 16 weeks as it was previously.
  6. Visits to children can be carried out by telephone or video. The timescales for visits, previously governed by Reg. 28 of the 2010 regs, are removed, and visits can take place as soon as is reasonably practicable.
  7. 33 is amended, so that reviews of looked after children’s care need to take place at 20 days, three months thereafter and after that, need only take place when reasonably practicable.
  8. Changes are also made to the constitution of fostering panels, (reg. 9), which are no longer mandatory.
  9. The Children’s Homes (England) Regs 2015 are amended, to allow the deprivation of liberty of a child either by court order or in accordance with an exercise of powers under sch. 21 to the Coronavirus Act 2020, which allows for detention on public health grounds.

These are far reaching changes introduced and passed within 48 hours, (22nd – 24th April), without Parliamentary scrutiny or oversight. Whilst the pressures on local authorities are immense at the moment, there will be questions asked as to whether the right balance has been struck in continuing to adequately safeguard children. At a time when domestic violence is on the increase[1], and as the country wakes up to the news of the murder of two children over the weekend by a male said to be “known to them”[2] is now really the right time to reduce safeguards and the visibility of vulnerable children even further?

There will no doubt be further commentary on the provisions in the days and weeks to come. Article39.org.uk have produced useful material for further reading[3], “Ministers use Covid-19 to destroy children’s safeguards” April 23 2020. The overwhelming reaction to the changes so far has been one of concern that such wide reaching steps can be taken without consultation or consideration, leaving the most vulnerable in society exposed to even greater risks of harm.

[1] https://1q7dqy2unor827bqjls0c4rn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/An-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister.pdf
[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-52436350
[3] https://article39.org.uk/2020/04/23/ministers-use-covid-19-to-destroy-childrens-safeguards/