Concern regarding the continuation of virtual visits to “looked after children”

UK Parliament’s Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has published a report on concerns about the extended relaxation of statutory requirements under the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (Adoption and Children Regs 2021), SI 2021/261, relating to children’s social care.

During the early part of the coronavirus pandemic, The Department of Education (DfE) introduced temporary changes to the statutory requirements during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic and extended these changes until 31 March 2021. The requirements have now been extended by a further six months until 30 September 2021.

The key measures that are extended include the following:

  • Social workers may continue to conduct virtual visits of looked after children where appropriate via video conference, telephone, or any other electronic means, but only when face-to-face contact would be contrary to any official public health guidance or when it is not reasonably practicable because of the pandemic. The decision to allow the use of a virtual visit will need to be made in line with any recommendations by a nominated officer. In cases where there are concerns and a face-to face visit is still the most appropriate, visits will need to be conducted in line with public health advice and the use of personal protective equipment. All uses of virtual visits must be recorded.
  • Virtual visits of residential family centres and virtual interviews with residents and staff to provide assurance on the conduct of the centre, and to form an opinion on the standard of care provided may also continue, but only when face to face contact would be contrary to any official public health guidance or when it is not reasonably practicable because of the pandemic. Similarly, virtual meetings of children and young people in children’s homes with their families, social workers and others may also continue under certain conditions. In all these cases the use of virtual visits will need to be recorded.
  • With the NHS remaining under pressure during the pandemic, applications for adoption and fostering may progress to the next stage of the assessment process without medical reports, which are usually required by the end of the initial stage of the process. Such medical reports continue to be required, however, before a final decision on an adoption or fostering placement can be made.
  • The minimum frequency of Ofsted inspections of children’s homes, residential family centres, holiday schemes for disabled children, fostering and voluntary adoption and adoption support agencies will remain suspended, with graded inspections expected to resume from April. According to DfE, Ofsted has continued to register social care providers and managers and to monitor children’s homes and other regulated settings where there are safeguarding concerns throughout the pandemic.

The Committee’s report published on 15 April 2021 (which can be accessed here) stated that:

“While we note the Department’s consultation with the sector and recognise the need for flexibility at this time, we are concerned about the length of this further extension, especially as children have now returned to school. We consider that a three-month extension may have been more appropriate, given the vulnerability of the children affected and the benefits of face-to-face contact, especially over the summer holidays. The House may wish to press the Minister for an assurance that the Department will make every effort to bring to an end the temporary measures and return to regular face-to-face visits and meetings at the earliest opportunity.”

 

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