This year, there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support some of the country’s most vulnerable children, as the Children and Families Bill passes through parliament.
The bill will affect how local authorities work with, and support, children in key areas such as the adoption and care system and children with special educational needs.
It aims to reduce delays in the adoption and care system. Introducing a maximum 26-week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings will be key to this.
Local authorities will be expected to do all they can to reduce delay in the family courts and meet this ambitious target.
Another clause within the bill would give the secretary of state powers to remove local authorities from the process of recruiting and assessing adopters.
This is part of an effort by government to increase the recruitment of adopters in local areas, but some organisations have expressed concerns about the impact that the proposals might have if they go ahead.
We know from our own research that young carers are lagging behind in school and missing out on their childhoods because of the demands placed on them
The bill presents a major reform of the present statutory framework for identifying children and young people with special educational needs, assessing their needs and making provision for them.
There are concenrs about how these reforms will benefit disabled children with health and social care needs, but without significant educational needs. Local authorities will need support and resources to make sure the reforms can make a practical difference at a local level.
Slipping through the net
Among those in need of greater protection are young carers – children who are missing out on their childhoods to look after their parents, siblings and extended family.
New census data published in May reveals there are a staggering 160,000 young carers in England. Despite this being the first official statistic to be published in ten years, it is likely to massively underrepresent the true picture. Many young carers remain hidden from the view of authorities, according to our Young Carers in Focus (YCiF) partnership, led by The Children’s Society and funded by the Big Lottery Fund.
The long term impact of being a young carer can be profound. We know from our own research that young carers are lagging behind in school and missing out on their childhoods because of the demands placed on them.
We would like to see a clear legal framework in place which consolidates existing law across children’s and adult’s legislation. This would give more clarity to the roles and responsibilities of both children’s services and adults service in identifying and meeting needs of young carers and their families, making sure that children do not slip through the net, undetected by support services.
We will now be watching the detailed discussions unfold over coming months. The Bill passes through parliament in the autumn, due back for debate in the House of Lords on 9 October.
James Bury is public affairs manager at the Children’s Society