A House of Lords committee has published a report raising concerns about the length of time social workers will be able to continue to make virtual visits to vulnerable looked after children.

The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/261) extends several relaxations to statutory requirements relating to children’s social care, by six months until 30 September 2021. Relaxations include:

  • Allowing social workers to make virtual visits to looked after children via video conference, telephone, or any other electronic means;
  • Virtual visits of residential family centres and virtual interviews with residents and staff to form an opinion on the standard of care provided; and
  • Virtual meetings of children and young people in children’s homes with their families, social workers and others.

The Department for Education (DfE) introduced extensive temporary changes to the statutory requirements that apply to children’s social care in the early stages of the pandemic. While the majority of these changes lapsed in September 2020, a number of them were extended until 31 March 2021 and are now being extended further, following consultation with key stakeholders.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is concerned about the length of this further extension, especially as children have now returned to school.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, a member of the Committee, said: “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 Committee asks the House to consider asking 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.”

 The regulations were laid on 9 March and brought into effect on 30 March 2020, although the House has until 4 May to raise any issues with the Regulations.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee scrutinises policy aspects of all secondary legislation laid before the House of Lords and subject to proceedings in Parliament and reports on them weekly.