The new Children and Families Bill was given Royal Assent on the 13th March 2014.
By Chereece Mark.
The new Bill aims to:
- Protect vulnerable children
- Provide better support for children whose parents are separating,
- Put in place a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities,
- Provide help for parents to balance work and family life.
The act ensures pivotal changes to the adoption system, which means that children who need loving and stable homes can be placed faster. In addition children in care will be given the choice to stay with their foster families until their 21st birthday.
Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister, said:
“The Children and Families Act is all about reforming services for vulnerable children – reflecting this government’s deep determination to give every child, whatever their start in life, an equal chance to make the best of themselves.
For children coming into the care system, the new 26-week time limit for care proceedings will reduce unnecessary delays. Virtual school heads will champion their education; children in residential care will live in safer, better quality homes and care leavers will have the option to stay with their foster families until they turn 21.
The act will also make it easier for families to access more flexible childcare, and give young carers’ greater support”.
The act includes a number of new measures to protect the welfare of children, including:
- a new legal duty on schools to support children at school with medical conditions better.
- making young carers’ and parent carers’ right to support from councils much clearer.
- reforms to children’s residential care to make sure homes are safe and secure, and to improve the quality of care vulnerable children receive.
- a requirement on all state-funded schools – including academies – to provide free school lunches on request for all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2.
- amendments to the law to protect children in cars from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
The act will also help parent better balance their work and home life with the following measures:
- April 2015, mothers, fathers and adopters can opt to share parental leave around their child’s birth or placement.
- 1 October 2014, prospective fathers or a mother’s partner can take time off to attend up to 2 antenatal appointments
- extending the right to request flexible working to all employees from 30 June 2014
The majority of the family justice provisions in the Children and Families Act will come into force on 22 April.