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New legislation could harm UK's most vulnerable children, warns child protection expert

BMJ

New legislation currently making its way through the House of Commons "could have an adverse impact on some of the most vulnerable children in the UK," warns a child protection expert on BMJ Opinion today.

The newly launched BMJ Opinion features comment and opinion from The BMJ's international community of readers, authors, and editors.

Dr Geoff Debelle, Officer for Child Protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), says a clause in the Children and Social Work Bill -- which would grant local authorities powers to develop new processes and mechanisms for delivering children's social services -- is causing great concern among health professionals working in the children's sector.

Peers in the House of Lords successfully voted to scrap the clause (Clause 29) during their final reading of the Bill in autumn 2016. However, a Government amendment has reintroduced the controversial measure.

"This Bill could mean health professionals would be working under a legislative framework that does not enforce a standardised way of delivering a particular innovation across the country," explains Debelle. "Without a framework that ensures standards are consistent, the power to test different ways of working could open the floodgates to all kinds of practices, in the name of supporting children's social care."

He stresses that the RCPCH "are by no means against innovation per se, in fact we encourage it. But we do have some major concerns about the notion of unfettered innovation implied in this Bill."

This legislation will have the potential to have an adverse impact on some of the most vulnerable children in the UK, who may have suffered from physical and emotional abuse, including sexual abuse, he warns.

For many of these children, the local authority is their 'corporate parent', and their contacts within these local authorities may be the only ones they feel they can trust, he writes. "That trust must not be eroded by work that, while it might be innovative, isn't being carefully evaluated and rigorously monitored."

He argues that there is no need for this clause, and points out that innovative work is already being done by local authorities under current legislation.

This clause should be rejected and the RCPCH is calling on MPs to vote against the amendment re-introducing it to the Bill, he says. But if this clause does go through, "it is imperative that local authorities act in the best interests of children to make sure their needs are at the heart of any new initiative."

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BMJ Opinion: Children and Social Work Bill http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj

For more information about BMJ Opinion, read the launch editorial: http://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.j631

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