Children and Families Bill 2013

24 Apr

The Children and Families Bill is making rapid progress through parliament and likely to receive the Royal Assent in the summer of 2014.   The provisions take forward the Coalition Government’s commitment to improve services for vulnerable children and support families.  The bill reforms the systems for adoption, looked-after children, family justice and special educational needs. It will encourage growth in the childcare sector, introduce a new system of shared parental leave and ensure children in England have a strong advocate for their rights. 

Main provisions

(1)       Adoption and virtual school head (VSH)

The government wants to see more children being adopted by loving families speedily. Children wait an average of almost two years following entry into the care system before joining an adoptive family. The bill supports the reforms set out here including the promotion of fostering for adoption and improving support for adoptive families.

The government wants to improve the life chances for all looked-after children. Their educational attainment, while improving, is not doing so fast enough. Accordingly, it is legislating to require every local authority to employ a virtual school head (VSH) to oversee the educational provision made for looked-after children and champion their cause as if they attended the same school.

(2)       Family justice system

The government is reforming the family justice system so that it can deliver better for children and families who go to court after family separation or where children may be taken into care. The reform programme is intended to tackle delays and ensure that children’s best interests are at the heart of decision-making. The bill contains provisions which take account of the Family Justice Review including the introduction of a time limit of 26 weeks when courts are considering whether a child should be taken into care.   One section is devoted to creating provision for families to try mediation before applying to court.

(3)       Special educational needs (SEN)

The Children and Families Bill will alter the way in which we provide for  children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), including those who are disabled, so that services consistently support the best outcomes for them.

The bill extends the SEN system from birth to 25, giving children, young people and their parents greater control and choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met. It takes forward the reform programme set out in the government’s green paper, Support and aspiration, a new approach to special educational needs and disability – progress and next steps In particular, when the bill is enacted,

(i)         old statements will be replaced with a new birth-to-25 education, health and care plan;

(ii)        families of children with special needs will be offered personal budgets; and

(iii)       all services that support children with special needs will be required to work more closely together and cooperate so that their (the affected children’s) families are effectively supported.

(4)       Childcare

The government is reforming childcare to ensure the whole system focuses on safe, high-quality care and early education for children. The enabling measures in the bill support wider reforms to increase the supply of good, affordable and available childcare.    As part of the process, childminder agencies will be established to help more childminders into the market making it easier for schools to offer wrap-around care.

(5)       Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC)

The government wants to ensure that the Children’s Commissioner can act as a strong advocate for children, helping to embed a culture where children’s interests are put first. The bill aims to enhance the Children’s Commissioner’s effectiveness, building on the recommendations in John Dunford’s Review of the office of the Children’s Commissioner (England) which was published in May 2012.   There will now be a statutory remit to promote and protect children’s rights.

(6)       Shared parental leave and flexible working

The government wants both parents – from the earliest stages of pregnancy – to be involved in a child’s rearing. Accordingly, the bill introduces a system of shared parental leave, and the extension of rights for flexible working for all employees.

For more information you can view the Children and Families Bill here and access the adoption review here.

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