We have not yet received a reply to the letter, but on Thursday an updated version of the guidance was published. We are pleased to see that the revised version reflects several changes we called for in the joint letter, particularly in the section on care leavers. This section is now much stronger and instead of only requiring local authorities to “do their best” to meet statutory duties it now says these must continue to be met, and that personal advisers should proactively reach out to care leavers during the pandemic. The care leavers section also now recognises the pressures care leavers are now under as a result of coronavirus, including risk of anxiety, isolation and financial vulnerability – all of which we highlighted in our letter.
The guidance refers to local authorities assessing care leavers’ needs but still states that they should “prioritise the most vulnerable”. This emphasis on prioritisation is unhelpful and risks young people missing out on support so it is still important that we all carefully monitor the treatment of children and young people in the care system. All care leavers must continue to receive the full package of support to which they are entitled.
We are pleased to see several other changes in the guidance, including strengthening the ‘Principles’ section to recognise that local authorities must continue to operate within the statutory framework, rather than, as previously, stating that there will be times in the current circumstances when it is not possible to meet statutory duties – again, this was a change we called for.
Nevertheless, although we are pleased that DfE listened to concerns raised in our letter and by many others in the sector, this is significantly undermined by the introduction of the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 which remove vital safeguards and legal protections for children in care and will undoubtedly put many children at greater risk of harm.
We will be continuing to call for the regulations to be revoked in full, as a member of the as part of the Scrap SI 445 campaign being led by Article 39. We will also be looking to secure further proactive changes for care leavers as we understand this is an area ministers are interested in.
You can read the letter here.