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Children and Families Act 2014: implications for local authorities

School children iStock 000006736409XSmall 146x219Olwen Dutton and Clare Taylor outline some of the key provisions for local authorities arising out of the Children and Families Act in relation to vulnerable children.

The Children and Families Act received Royal Assent on 13 March 2014. This Act aims to give greater protection to vulnerable children. It creates a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities. It also makes changes to the adoption system so more children who need adopting are placed into loving homes more quickly than is currently the case. The Act also includes measures which mean that children in care may choose to stay with their foster carers until their 21st birthday.

Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister, said: “The Children and Families Act is all about reforming services for vulnerable children - reflecting this government’s deep determination to give every child, whatever their start in life, an equal chance to make the best of themselves.

Our adoption reforms will help the 6,000 children who need loving homes to be adopted. Our reforms to special educational needs will see a system introduced which is designed around the needs of children and will support them up to the age of 25.

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For children coming into the care system, the new 26-week time limit for care proceedings will reduce unnecessary delays. Virtual school heads will champion their education; children in residential care will live in safer, better quality homes and care leavers will have the option to stay with their foster families until they turn 21.

The Act will also give young carers’ greater support.”

This article highlights some of the key changes which affect local authorities.

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Part 3 of the Act contains provisions as a result of the green paper: ‘Support and aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability’ published by the Department for Education on 18 March 2011 and then followed up by ‘Progress and next steps’ published 15 May 2012.

The aim of these reforms is to give children and young people with special educational needs and /or disabilities and their parents or carers greater control and choice in decisions and ensuring the needs of these children and young people and their carers are properly met.

The provisions in Part 3 include:

  • replacing old style Statements of Special Educational Needs with a new birth-to-25 Education, Health and Care plan (“EHC plans”);
  • offering families personal budgets to buy the services they require to support their child’s special educational needs;
  • improving cooperation between all the services that support children and their families, particularly requiring local authorities and health authorities to work together. Local authorities now have a duty to ensure that special educational provision is more integrated with health and care provision through ‘joint commissioning’ to secure better provision;
  • an obligation on local authorities to publish and information about their “local offer”. The local offer is the services a local authority expects to be available for children and young people with special educational needs. Local authorities will keep their local offer under review and revise it. The local offer must include information about the provision the local authority expects to be available in its own area for children and young people with special educational needs and outside of its area for the children and young people for whom it is responsible, regardless of whether or not they have EHC Plans.

Adoption

The Government wants to see more children being adopted by loving families with less delay. Children wait an average of almost two years between entering care and moving in with an adoptive family. The Act implements the reforms set out in ‘An action plan for adoption: tackling delay’ including by promoting fostering for adoption and improving support for adoptive families.

The provisions in relation to adoption which are set out in Part 1 of the Act include:

  • a duty on local authorities looking after a child to consider placing the child in a ‘Fostering for Adoption’ placement where they are considering adoption;
  • a removal of the requirement to give due consideration to ethnicity. This is already addressed in other factors for consideration when choosing an adoption placement;
  • enabling local authorities to prepare personal budgets for adoption support services. This is an amount made available to secure particular adoption support services;
  • amendments to the provisions in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which provide for the establishment of an Adoption and Children Act Register of children suitable for adoption and prospective adopters who are suitable to adopt a child;
  • a duty on local authorities to promote the educational achievement of children they look after.

The care system and care leavers

The changes made by the Act means that children who are at risk come into the care system quicker and where they chose can stay in the system longer to support their transition into adulthood.

The provisions to be introduced in the Act are:

  • the introduction of a 26-week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings. In particular cases this could be extended by up to eight weeks at a time if necessary to resolve proceedings justly;
  • the choice of children in care to stay with foster families until the age of 21;
  • clearer rights of young carers’ and parent carers’ to receive support from local authorities;
  • reform to children’s residential care to make sure homes are safe and secure.

Implementation

None of the above provisions are yet in force and the first provisions to come into force on 22 April 2014 are in relation to the reform of the family justice system. This will coincide with the launch of the new single Family Court. The remainder of the provisions highlighted above will come into force over the coming months. The Government will announce when in due course.

Olwen Dutton is a Partner and Clare Taylor is an Associate at Bevan Brittan. Olwen can be reached on 0870 194 5006 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., while Clare can be contacted on 0870 194 5413 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

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