Wednesday, 25th November 2020

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Secretary of State for Education unlawfully removed safeguards for children in care during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a judgment handed down yesterday, the Court declared that the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson acted unlawfully by failing to consult the Children’s Commissioner for England and other children’s rights organisations before making “substantial and wide-ranging” changes to legal protections for children in care in England.

Led by the charity Article 39, ECPAT UK and over 60 other child rights organisations publicly campaigned against the changes, introduced overnight under Statutory Instrument 445 without public consultation or parliamentary debate.

The legislation weakened or removed 65 legal safeguards for children that had been hard won over the last century. These lost protections made trafficked and at risk children in care particularly vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and harm at a time when social isolation means they need more protection than ever.

We were particularly concerned about the following regulations brought in under the new legislation:

  • Regulation 8(13) removed timeframes for social worker visits to looked after children. During the pandemic, trafficked children in care need more support than ever. Loss of regular visits and support put them at increased risk of exploitation and harm. Those with no family members in the UK rely on their social workers to do what any good parent would do.
  • Regulation 8(14) removed timescales for statutory reviews of the welfare of children in care. Trafficked children often experience uncertainty about the future, particularly relating to whether they can remain in the UK. They need to know that there is a plan to increase the support and care around them and safeguard their wellbeing during this uncertain time.
  • Regulation 8(11) removed safeguards for children in out-of-area foster placements with persons unconnected to them. Trafficked children may be placed in a new area to break links with traffickers. Loss of trust in the adults charged with their care can increase the risk of children going missing and being re-trafficked. Having systems and structures in place is critical to safeguard children from going missing from out-of-area placements.
  • Regulation 5 removed timeframes relating to children being privately fostered. Local authorities proactively registering and visiting children being privately fostered plays a critical role in the identification and safeguarding of child victims of trafficking.

Patricia Durr, Chief Executive of ECPAT UK, said

“This is a major win for children in care, who should never have been left more vulnerable under the national response to the pandemic.

“We’re hugely grateful to Article 39 and the many others who worked so hard to hold the government to account and make sure children’s rights are upheld throughout the pandemic and beyond.

“This judgment is significant as it highlights the government’s duty to seek and take into account the views of children and young people in care and those representing their rights, views and interests when making these decisions. It also underscores the government’s accountability to some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”


Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected], 07402 113 985