The Children and Families Bill 2012-13
Overhaul of SEN
Significant reforms to services for vulnerable children and radical proposals to allow parents to choose how they share up to a year’s leave, to look after their new-born children, have been announced.
The Children and Families Bill, published on 4 Feb, includes reforms to adoption, family justice, an overhaul of Special Educational Needs, reinforcing the role of the Children’s Commissioner and plans to introduce childminders agencies. It also includes the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees. The proposed Shared Parental Leave reforms will give parents much greater flexibility about how they ‘mix and match’ care of their child in the first year after birth. They may take the leave in turns or take it together, provided that they take no more than 52 weeks combined in total. These changes will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child, help mothers to go back to work at a time that’s right for them, returning a pool of talent to the workforce. It will also create more flexible workplaces to boost the economy. This Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on a date to be announced. This Government Bill was presented to Parliament on 4 February 2013. This is known as the first reading and there was no debate on the Bill at this stage.
Summary of the Children and Families Bill 2012-13
Adoption and virtual school head (VSH)
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 Bill supports 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 Government is committed to improving life chances for all looked after children. Their educational attainment, while improving, is not doing so fast enough. We know that a virtual school head (VSH) can have a positive impact on the educational progress of looked after children and so the Bill will require every local authority to have a virtual school head to champion the education of children in the authority’s care, as if they all attended the same school.
Family justice system
The Government is reforming the family justice system so that it can deliver better for children and families who go to court after family separation or where children may be taken into care. The reform programme is tackling delays and ensuring that children’s best interests are at the heart of decision making. The Bill will implement commitments the Government made in response to the Family Justice Review including by introducing a time limit of 26 weeks when courts are considering whether a child should be taken into care and making sure more families have the opportunity to try mediation before applying to court.
Special educational needs (SEN)
The Government is transforming the system for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), including those who are disabled, so that services consistently support the best outcomes for them. The Bill will extend the SEN system from birth to 25, giving children, young people and their parents greater control and choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met. It takes forward the reform programme set out in Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability: Progress and next steps including by:
replacing old statements with a new birth- to-25 education, health and care plan;
offering families personal budgets; and
improving cooperation between all the services that support children and their families, particularly requiring local authorities and health authorities to work together.
The Government is reforming childcare to ensure the whole system focuses on providing safe, high-quality care and early education for children. The enabling measures in the Bill support wider reforms to substantially increase the supply of high quality, affordable and available childcare and include introducing childminder agencies to help more childminders into the market and offer greater support and quality assurance and removing bureaucracy so that it is easier for schools to offer wrap-around care.
Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC)
The Government wants to make sure that the Children’s Commissioner can act as a strong advocate for children, helping to embed a culture where children’s interests are put first. The Bill will help improve the Children’s Commissioner’s effectiveness, taking forward recommendations in John Dunford’s Review of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (England) including giving the Commissioner a statutory remit to promote and protect children’s rights.
Shared parental leave and flexible working
The Government is committed to encouraging the full involvement of both parents from the earliest stages of pregnancy, including by promoting a system of shared parental leave, and to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. The Bill will implement the commitments in the Government’s response (November 2012) to the modern workplaces consultation.