A PROFESSOR of social work has sounded warnings over emergency regulations covering adoption, fostering and the responsibilities of local authorities towards children in care.  They have been brought in without Parliamentary approval as a response to the coronavirus crisis.

Concerns over the new regulations include the fact that adoption decisions no longer need to be scrutinised by an independent panel, and there are also relaxations in the requirement for reviews.  This could mean that adoptions are unduly rushed, with serious future consequences, it is argued. 

Study Social Work at Huddersfield

The University of Huddersfield’s Professor Brid Featherstone is the co-author – with Professor Anna Gupta from Royal Holloway University of London – of a major enquiry titled The role of the social worker in adoption – ethics and human rights.  The product of two years’ research, it was commissioned by the British Association of Social Workers.

Now, the two professors have collaborated on a blog that expresses a range of concerns over the new Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.  This incorporates changes that recent Governments attempted to introduce, only to be defeated in the Commons after cross-party campaigns.  But now they are being brought in with no consultation or scrutiny, said Professor Featherstone.

“The argument, understandable to begin with, was that with the lockdown everyone would be under such pressure that there would need to be flexibility and the removal of requirements that might put added pressure on local authorities, which would have their capacity reduced.  But that isn’t what’s been happening and councils have adapted to remote learning very well,” continued Professor Featherstone.

“For example, all that might be needed for a child in care is a phone call once every six weeks and so removing that kind of requirement is really odd.  What we are hearing is that there is no need for such flexibility and very few places have been using it.

“Adoption is such a life-changing, consequential process that we need to be really careful.”

Lockdown measures problematic

In their blog, which has been posted online by the British Association of Social Workers, Professors Featherstone and Gupta argue that in the context of lockdown, the speeding up of adoptions and the lack of scrutiny are “particularly problematic”.  There have been cases where not having face-to-face contact made it difficult to communicate carefully and sensitively, they write.

The professors state that: “Despite all the evidence highlighting the need not to rush such processes, we have become aware of pressure being placed on social workers for children to be placed quickly in order to free up foster placements for other children who may be coming into care as a result of the virus.

“This is extremely concerning at the best of times, but in the midst of a pandemic, which is causing huge strains for all families, it may be positively dangerous.  Vulnerable children who are likely to have levels of anxiety are leaving familiar foster parents to live with strangers in conditions of social isolation and high levels of stress.”

There have been concerns, states the blog, that the pandemic has been a pretext for the introduction of statutory changes that have been successfully opposed in the past. 

Professor Featherstone also backs the organisation Article 39, which campaigns on the rights of children living in state and privately-run institutions and is concerned by Government proposals to remove key legal safeguards for children in care.