The Children and Families Bill 2013

The Children and Families Bill left the Committee Stage this month, during which MPs had the chance to discuss each individual clause and go through the Bill in detail. The bill is due to enter the Report stage on December 9th, where the final wording of each clause shall be voted on. After this the bill will be reprinted with the agreed amendments and moved on to the Third Reading.

It is hoped that the Bill shall come into force by September 2014, introducing a wide range of benefits to the safety and welfare of children in England and Wales. The Children and Families Bill is said to be the biggest reform of child welfare legislation in the last 30 years

Areas covered by the Children and Families Bill

  • Adoption
  • Special needs education (SEN)
  • Mediation during divorce
  • Family law
  • Shared parenting
  • Office of the Children’s Commissioner
  • Statutory rights to adoption leave/pay
  • Statutory rights to parental leave/pay
  • Time off for ante-natal care
  • Right to request flexible working

A Bill must pass through many stages before it becomes law; this is why it can take so long for proposed legislation to be passed – the Children and Families Bill was first published in February 2013.

Report stage

All members of the House of Lords will have another chance to examine and amend the Bill. A new version with all of the updated amendments shall then be released.

Third reading

Members then have the chance to make sure the proposed legislation will be effective and doesn’t have any loopholes that can be exploited.

Consideration of amendments

The Bill will be sent back to the House of Commons so that all amendments can be reconsidered – both the Lords and Commons can make amendments, but they must be considered and agreed upon by each House. A bill may go back and forth (‘ping pong’) for quite some time before the wording of the bill is agreed on by both parties.

Royal Assent

This is when the Queen agrees to pass the bill as an Act of Parliament. It is hoped that Royal Assent will be given early into 2014 to ensure that the proposed implementation date doesn’t change.

Latest Proposed Amendments

Amendments have been proposed ready for the report stage, some covering areas such as:

  • Young Carers and support available to them
  • Wording of clauses regarding adoption and foster care (including available support)
  • Wording changed to specify that parents have a ‘duty’ to maintain contact and a meaningful relationship with their child – where practicable and in the child’s best interest.
  • An amendment has also been proposed which places more emphasis on paying attention to the importance of non-resident parents being granted quality contact with children following family separation.

Issues and debate

Some organisations feel that opportunities are being missed by the new legislation, and are campaigning for changes to be made to the Bill before it becomes law.

The Down’s Syndrome Association feels that the Bill fails to deliver on certain points regarding SEN. This is mainly on the quality of service delivered by local authorities, the upholding of certain rights and entitlements held by parents before the bill is passed, and guarantees of quality mainstream education for special academies and colleges.

They want to see the following included in the Bill: 

  • žHealth and social care given the same importance as education – Guaranteed social care and health support for every child that needs it.
  • Single point of appeal for parents who need to challenge their child’s plan – at the moment there are three different appeal systems standing in their way.
  • Hold local authorities to account – they should be legally obliged to provide and improve services that are needed or not up to standard.
  • Keep the current procedures for reassessments and reviews – local authorities must remain accountable to relevant professionals when reviewing EHC plans (the Bill would prevent this being a requirement).

 This article explains how certain clauses regarding adoption could result in children being placed into adoption without the consent of birth parents through a loophole – and describes how children may miss out on being placed with wider family members more so than they do now.

This is due to the new changes around foster for adoption - If the council decides that a child might need to be adopted, they will try to ensure the child is placed with a family who would be in a position to adopt the child straight away – this family can then foster the child until a decision can be made. The child may be returned to the birth family, or be adopted by the new family – it depends on what the court or council deems is in the child’s best interests. Some organisations are concerned that, if the child is placed with a foster family before members of the birth family have a chance to come forward (such as grandparents, aunts, uncles etc.) as alternative carers, then it might be decided that the child should be adopted by the foster family once the matter has been resolved, so as not to unsettle them.

Many organisations and charities concerned with the Bill are putting in their requests and briefings to the House of Lords ahead of the amendments review, with the hope of changing or adding to certain clauses; it remains to be seen whether all the recommendations made by such organisations will be successful.

You can find further reading on family law