DfE sets out key features of Children and Families Bill
Bill should be introduced in early 2013
The Department for Education has set out the key features of the Children and Families Bill announced in the Queen's Speech. The Bill is expected to be introduced early in 2013.
The main elements of the forthcoming Bill include:
The key measures are:
- creating a time limit of six months by which care cases must be completed
- making it explicit that case management decisions should be made only after impacts on the child, their needs and timetable have been considered
- focussing the court on those issues which are essential to deciding whether to make a care order
- getting rid of unnecessary processes in family proceedings by removing the requirement for interim care and supervision orders to be renewed every month by the judge and instead allowing the judge to set the length and renewal requirements of interim orders for a period which he or she considers appropriate, up to the expected time limit
- requiring courts to have regard to the impact of delay on the child when commissioning expert evidence and whether the court can obtain information from parties already involved
- requiring parents in dispute to consider mediation as a means of settling that dispute rather than litigation by making attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting a statutory prerequisite to starting court proceedings
- freeing up judicial time by allowing legal advisers to process uncontested divorce applications.
It follows the Government's response in February 2012 to the final report of the independent Family Justice Review published in November 2011.
The key measure is:
- stopping local authorities delaying an adoption to find the perfect match if there are suitable adopters available. The ethnicity of a child and prospective adopters will come second, in most cases, to the speed of placing a child in a permanent home.
The proposal was set out in the Adoption Action Plan published in March 2012 – part of wider reforms to speed up and overhaul the system for prospective adoptive parents and children.
Ministers intend to strengthen the law to ensure children have a relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe and in the child's best interests.
The Government believes that this will encourage more separated parents to resolve their disputes out of court and agree care arrangements that fully involve both parents.
The Government will consult shortly on how the legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about an equal division of time but the quality of time that a child spends with each parent.
This was announced as part of the Government's response to the independent Family Justice Review in February 2012. The review published its final report in November 2011.
Office of the Children's Commissioner
The key measures are:
- strengthening the Commissioner's remit – with new overall function to "promote and protect children's rights" as set out in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child
- widening the Commissoner's remit to include the functions of the Children's Rights Director in Ofsted
- granting new powers to carry out assessments of the impact of new policies and legislation on children's rights and underline existing duties on government and public services to publish formal responses to Commissioner's reports
- giving more independence from ministers and report directly to Parliament – with Parliament playing a stronger role in scrutinising the Commissioner's performance
- granting future Commissioners a single six-year term of office.
Special Education Needs
The key measures are:
- replacing SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (for 16- to 25-year-olds) with a single, simpler 0-25 assessment process and Education, Health and Care Plan from 2014
- providing statutory protections comparable to those currently associated with a statement of SEN to up to 25 in further education – instead of it being cut off at 16
- requiring local authorities to publish a local offer showing the support available to disabled children and young people and those with SEN, and their families
- giving parents or young people with Education, Health and Care Plans the right to a personal budget for their support
- introducing mediation for disputes and trialling giving children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.