Government plans for radical overhaul of family law would do little to help improve lives of vulnerable children, warn charities

 

Charities warned that Government plans for a radical overhaul of family law including the introduction of shared parental leave would do little to help improve the lives of the most vulnerable children.

The Coalition’s new Children’s and Families Bill will allow fathers to share up to a year’s leave to look after their newborn children and also includes reforms to adoption, family justice, the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system, and plans to introduce childminders agencies.

But while charities expressed support for the aims of the Bill many said they were concerned that the promised improvements would fail to be delivered.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the charity Scope, said the plans were disappointing arguing they would do “nothing to alleviate the stress and anxiety” felt by parents of disabled children.

He said: "Parents of disabled children have been looking forward to action. But instead it looks like the Government is going to politely suggest to local bodies that they do their best to improve things.”

Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious about Autism, warned that funding cuts made improvements unlikely. She said: “This Bill is being introduced against a backdrop of deepening cuts to frontline services for families of children with autism, and at the same time as schools and colleges are grappling with an entirely new funding system. We want to see young people with autism getting better coordinated support from early years to 25, but there is a growing gap between the aspirations of the Bill and the reality of diminishing budgets, fewer services, and the increased battles for support families are facing on the ground.”

The proposed reforms will give parents 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 they take no more than 52 weeks between them.

Ministers also plan to speed up adoption to cut the current average wait of two years to place a child with a new family. The Bill seeks to improve support for the families, and ensure that a search for a perfect or partial ethnic match does not stop a child being placed with a new family.

On family justice, the Bill seeks to introduce a time limit of 26 weeks when courts are considering whether a child should be taken into care, ensuring they do not get caught up in unnecessary delays. It will also bring in new “child arrangement orders” designed to focus parents on the child's needs rather than their own “rights” and make sure more families have the opportunity to try mediation before applying to court.

The Bill aims to extend the SEN system from birth to 25-year-olds, giving children, young people and their parents greater choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met. It will replace statements and learning difficulty assessments with a new birth-to-25 Education, Health and Care Plan, extending rights and protections to young people in further education and training and offering families personal budgets so they have more control over the support they need.

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