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CHILDREN'S ACT ESSENTIAL FEATURES TO BE EXPLAINED

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PARENTS ...
PARENTS

A popular guide to The Children (Scotland) Act which sets out a new philosophy and framework of integrated child law and services in Scotland was announced today by Scottish Office minister James Douglas-Hamilton.

The guide will set out in easily understandable form the responsibilities, rights, duties and powers the Act contains which place the child at the centre of decision making.

The minister was speaking at the Children in Scotland Conference in Glasgow where he outlined the main features of the Act.

'There are many areas in the Act worth highlighting but I will mention only three - the new formulations of parental responsibilities and rights, new terminology for children looked after by local authorities and finally after care,' he said.

'Sections 1 and 2 set out for the first time in legislation in the UK those responsibilities and corresponding rights which parents will have in relation to their children. Importantly, the emphasis will be on both parents taking an active part in the upbringing of their children.

'It is our belief that this will lead us into a new climate where both parents should have responsibilities and rights, even after separation or divorce. This emphasis on sharing and the needs of the child are reflected in the new residence and contact orders.

'Section 17 introduces the important new concept of local authorities 'looking after' children. I say new, but this concept - and the terminology - is already in use in England. During the passage of the Bill there was some debate over whether this change in terminology would diminish the responsibilities of local authorities towards children.

'I can assure people who harbour such concerns that this is not the case, and in some ways the responsibilities towards children are actually greater. 'Care' has not been lost - it will continue to be something which is given to children by both parents and local authorities - but it will no longer be used in a way to signify rights over a child.

'This minor change in terminology signals a fundamental change in the way we see local authorities assisting children and their families. The old 'care' terminology, while familiar to us all, was nonetheless stigmatising and misunderstood.

'The new terminology is intended to indicate more of a partnership with parents, with the duties to be carried out by a local authority in respect of a child being determined by that individual child's and family's needs. The emphasis is therefore on the needs of the child, not the rights over that child.

'If this sounds like an echo of the changes made in Part I of the Act to give greater emphasis to parental responsibilities rather than rights, it is deliberately so, and is a good example of the Act's integrated approach to child law.

'Section 29 of the Act introduces new aftercare provisions for young people who have been looked after by local authorities. It extends the present duty to assist young people up to and including the age of 17 by one year, and it introduces a new power for local authorities to advise and assist young people up to age 21.

'In addition there is provision in section 30 for local authorities to provide financial assistance towards expenses of education and training up to the age of 21 - and beyond that age to allow the young person to complete his course of education.

'This represents a major enhancement of the existing aftercare provisions and makes the support available to Scottish children far more favourable than anywhere else in the UK. It is always possible to argue that any provision could have been made more generous, but we must be realistic and appreciate what we have been able to achieve.

'In the UK only Scotland places a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide assistance - and of that we should be duly proud. The Act, contains an impressive - some might even say daunting - list of new features which include

- new orders for contact and residence

- local authority service plans

- welfare responsibility for children away from home set clearly on proprietors of establishments

- provision for short-term refuge for children who are at risk of harm

- specific legal procedures laid down for consideration of new evidence and proof hearing which will remove the uncertainty highlighted by the recent South Ayrshire sexual abuse cases

- a range of new orders - child protection orders, exclusion orders and assessment orders - designed to improve the protection of children

- a revised procedure for transfer of parental responsibilities to local authorities

- clarification of the consent of children to a medical examination of treatment

'These are part and parcel of an Act which points to a major change in the provision of services for children and their families and the way we see those services.

'It is for that reason that I can announce here today that we intend publishing a booklet in the near future which will set out, in an easily understandable form, the essential features of the Act, its structure, the themes and principles running through it and the provision for responsibilities, rights, duties and powers which it contains.

'The booklet, which will be of use to both professionals and lay-people, will cover both the concept and services which feature and underpin the Act. I hope that it will prove particularly helpful to the members of the new councils, as they take on their social work responsibilities.'

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