The Children and Families Act 2014 obtained royal assent and became law on 13 March 2014. This is a landmark and wide-ranging act designed to fully reform services for vulnerable children, by giving them greater protection, paying special attention to those with additional needs, and also helping parents and the family as a whole.
This summary outlines the key changes the Act made to the safeguarding and child protection system and services for children and families. Although incorporated into one single Act, due to the extent of the changes made, many elements came into force at different times, with most by the end of 2015. This Act is mainly concerned with England; however, some measures are applicable to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There are nine important parts to the Act, each of which makes substantial changes and new provisions to various areas of child welfare and family law. We’re going to go through each one below.
The act made several changes to the adoption system, most of which were designed to generally streamline the process, making it easier for adoptions to happen, while ensuring child safety and welfare. Some of the key points of this part of the Act are as follows:
The family justice review was set up in 2010, with the aim of considering and recommending major reforms to the way that the courts worked in relation to family justice. Many of the recommendations of this independant panel were implemented in the Children and Families Act, and were designed to improve child welfare and make the court processes more effective and crucially, quicker than they were before. Key points from section two include:
The largest part of the Act deals with laws and provisions relating to children who have special educational needs or disabilities. It was determined that the existing system simply did not perform well enough for these particularly vulnerable groups of people, and that a new approach was required, following reports and green papers published by the Department of Education in years preceding the Act. Major changes revolved around giving families better control over the welfare of their child. New provisions put in place by the Act included the following:
The Act established and registered childminder agencies, which provide child-minders with training and business advice, to help increase the provision and quality of childcare across the country, though individual childminders do not have to register with or be inspected by Ofsted under the Act. In addition, schools were given more flexibility in respect of offering childcare to pupils.
Part 5 is a broad-ranging section of the Act, which deals with the importance of fostering, having the right living environment, as well as various other issues relating to child welfare. Under this section, the following key points were put into force:
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England was set up in 2005 with the aim of championing the interests of children in the country. In the Children and Families Act 2014, the Children's Commissioner's role was increased from simply representing the views and interests of children to focusing on, and promoting and protecting the rights of children. It should be noted that the Commissioner has a duty to all non-devolved aspects of children’s rights in the UK, which means immigration in Scotland, Wales and NI is covered too.
It was recognised that it’s very important for families to strike the right balance between work and life, which meant strengthening and expanding on various laws pertaining to the right to time off, as well as receiving benefit payments. The Act made several important changes in this regard, which are split into three parts; statutory rights, time off, and flexible working. The major changes were as follows:
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