Emergency rules that a watchdog has warned are putting the most vulnerable children at risk during the Covid-19 crisis will be challenged at the High Court.
Campaigners have won the go-ahead for a judicial review against the “dangerous” care regulations, which they argue have snatched away safeguards dating back many decades.
The children’s commissioner for England has already demanded the rules – which have stripped back visits and inspections for many months – be scrapped immediately, The Independent revealed.
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Anne Longfield highlighted worrying failings by local authorities since they came into force – “without public scrutiny” – at the end of April, to last until September at least.
Now Article 39, a children’s charity, has won the first stage of a legal battle against the regulations, with a fast-track hearing to be held on 27 and 28 July.
A “delighted” Carolyne Willow, the group’s director, said: “We know from past tragedies that too often children’s suffering goes hidden until it is too late and the harm has been done.
“Before the pandemic, at least half of local authorities were struggling to meet their statutory children’s social care duties – as judged by Ofsted – and councils have been saying for years that they are desperate for funds.
“Ministers should have been focused on ensuring local authorities had the financial support they needed to keep children in care safe and protected, rather than dismantling safeguards.”
Article 39 – which has identified 65 separate removals, or dilution, of protections – said the review had been granted on three separate grounds:
* That the department for education failed to consult before making the changes.
* That the regulations ride roughshod over existing legislation, particularly the Children Act 1989.
* That Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, breached his duty to promote the well-being of children in England.
Earlier this month, Ms Longfield said, of the regulations: “I think they should be revoked now – I don’t think they are necessary or justified.”
And she added: “There is a potential for children in care not to be given the protection they need and for them to be put at greater risk.
“For some, that means they are at greater risk of grooming or exploitation, especially older children in semi-independent accommodation.”
One requirement lifted – for a six-monthly review of a child’s care – has been traced back to the manslaughter of a 12-year-old by his foster carers way back in 1944.
Another relaxation allows social workers to contact children living in care, or privately fostered, as soon as “reasonably practicable” –rather than within one week initially, and every six weeks for the year after that.
And children can be locked up in care homes if they are showing symptoms of coronavirus – without, it is feared, clear guidance for monitoring this.