The Children and Families Bill 2013

The Children and Families Act which has just received Royal Assent, is the most far-reaching child welfare legislation to be considered by Parliament for decades. We have examined its details and considered its implications for the families who our organisation support and represent.

We understand that many people will have interest in particular parts of the Act.  A summary briefing written when the Act was a Bill going through Parliament is available here.

Family Rights Group has long been arguing for a pre-proceedings protocol to address the current variation in practice in how families are engaged before proceedings start. This has become increasingly important in view of the new 26 week timetable in care proceedings which reduces the time for considering family options once care proceedings have started and recent case law which restates the principle that potentially suitable family options for the child must be explored and ruled out before a child can be p4ermanently separated from their parent.

We have therefore been working with a wide range of organisations and individuals to respond to the government’s recent consultation on Court Orders which includes statutory guidance on pre proceedings practice in public law cases. Read our response and links to documents:

The following are briefings which were written when the Act was a Bill going through Parliament. We also set out proposed amendments which we campaigned to be incorporated into the Bill.

1. Amendment to clauses 1 & 6: Foster for adoption
1a. Government's new amendment to clause 1: Foster for adoption
Clause 1 exempts local authorities from prioritising placing a looked after child with a suitable wider family member over a prospective adopter, once adoption is even considered. It states that local authorities must consider placing a child with prospective adopters (who are temporarily approved as foster carers) as soon as adoption is even considered for the child by social workers. Clause 6 means social workers will be able to put the name of the child for whom they are considering adoption on the national adoption register, and place the child out of their local area. .

These provisions apply to all looked after children including those who are accommodated (i.e. in care with parental agreement). So, at the point the child is placed with potential adopters there may have been no court proceedings nor judicial decision that the child should be permanently removed from their parents.

Whether or not these suggested amendments are successful, we also set out other proposals which will reduce the negative impact of these clauses on the legal process and the child’s chances of being raised by, and thriving within, their family.

2. New clause: Work with families pre-proceedings
The aim of this amendment is to ensure effective work is undertaken with the family to avert the need for them to be removed into the care system and raised by unrelated carers.. This work will include offering a family group conference to help the family develop a safe plan for the child, and exploring  family and friends care placement options for the child.

3. Supporting family and friends care arrangements

3.1 New clause: Support for family and friends care
The aim of this amendment is to ensure that  family and friends carers can access support to meet the needs of children they are raising, irrespective of legal status.  The amendment would apply to support for children, who would otherwise be in the care system, because they are at risk or their parent is incapacitated, dead or in prison.

3.2 New clause: Financial Allowance for family and friends carers
The aim of the following amendment is to ensure that family and friends carers receive a basic financial allowance from central government to support them raise a child who cannot remain with their parents and would otherwise be in the care system. As in the amendment above, support would be restricted to cases of children, who cannot live with their parents and would otherwise be in the care system, because they are at risk or their parent is incapacitated, dead or in prison.

3.3 New clause: 4A Special Guardianship Support and Information Services
The aim of these amendments is to ensure that improved support for adopters in this Bill, in the form of personal budgets and better information about support is extended to special guardians who, like adopters, are providing a permanent home for the child as an alternative to them being in the care system.

3.4 Amendment to clause 91: Statutory right to leave & pay for special guardians & family and friends carers

The aim of these amendments is to give family and friends carers the same employment rights as adoptive parents.

4. Amendment to clause 2: Race, culture, language & religion when making adoption decisions
The aim of this amendment is to insert in the adoption welfare checklist (which is binding on adoption agencies as well as courts) a requirement to consider the child’s race, culture, language and religion when making any decision concerning the adoption of a child.

5. Contact

5.1 Amendment to clause 7(4): Contact with children in care
The aim of this amendment is to remove the requirement for additional regulation relating to contact between a child and their birth family.

5.2 New Sub-clause 7(6): Sibling contact
The aim of this amendment is to require local authorities to allow children in care contact with their siblings as well as their parents/others with parental responsibility.

6. Amendment to clause 14(5): Reducing time limit for care proceedings
The aim of this amendment is to ensure that court timetabling is sufficiently flexible to allow for delay where this is constructive and necessary for the child’s long term welfare.

7. Amendments to clause 15: Reducing court scrutiny of care plans
The aim of these amendments is to ensure that there is effective judicial scrutiny of and accountability for, long term plans for children who are the subject of care orders.

8. New clause promoting effective support for looked after children returning home
The aim of our proposed amendment is to increase the chances of a successful return home for all looked after children returning to the care of the parents by requiring local authorities to adequately assess, prepare, support and monitor the child’s welfare in the arrangement.