One in Five Social Workers Unware of April Changes to Children and Families Act

Published: 24th July 2014

Four months after the Children and Families Act was passed, nearly 20% of social workers remain unaware of the changes. This somewhat surprising figure was revealed in recent report published by the Victoria Climbié Foundation (VCF).

A number of reforms came in as a result of the passing of the Children and Families Act, which became law in March of this year. Many of these relate to the adoption process. In order to give children better protection when they could face physical or emotional harm from their biological families, a number of moves have been made to speed up proceedings. For example, care proceedings now have a 26 week time limit. Very difficult cases will have the potential to be extended beyond this standard limit by a maximum of eight weeks. The act also expands the right of adoptive families to paid leave. The rights of adoptive parents in this area are now much closer than ever before to the rights held by birth parents.

The act also removed the need to pay "due consideration" to the ethnic and religious background of a child when placing them with a new family. This made the process of finding a matching family simpler and, it is hope, quicker by reducing the number of factors that must be considered.

The research contained within the report was designed to examine whether social workers are able to implement the changes brought in by the act under the infrastructure that is currently in place. Unfortunately, the final report was not encouraging on this count. As well as the significant portion of social workers that still lack awareness of the changes, the data gathered by the VCF raised concerns over certain practical barriers to the implementation of the changes. These include large volumes of cases, public perception of social workers and supervision.

However, the fact that social workers have not been properly kept up-to-date on the changes remains perhaps the most concerning factor. Many have been shocked by the fact that, after four months of the act being in force, one in every five social workers remains simply unaware of the reforms. According to College of Social Work chair Jo Cleary, "The report rightly draws attention to the importance of effectively engaging practitioners in the reform agenda."

Commenting on the report, Mor Dioum, founder of VCF, said that the organisation "[welcomes] the Children and Families Act," because it "encourages development of the childcare sector, as well as ensuring a strong advocate for children’s rights."

However, Dioum went on to say that the VCF is "concerned that, despite a raft of reviews and recommendations over the past five years, the current social work system is not significantly robust enough to deliver on the Act." Through the findings of the report, Dioum said, "we now have evidence from the front line that this is the case."

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