The Children Act was given Royal Assent in the November of 1989 and was designed to place duties on parents, courts, local authorities, and other agencies to safeguard children and ensure that their welfare is promoted.
The Act states that a child’s welfare should be the paramount concern for the court and has been the basis for decisions within the family courts for the last 30 years. The Act emphasises that children are not possessions to be fought over and have rights of their own.
The Act came into force in 1991, whilst I was a trainee solicitor which means this anniversary makes me feel very old indeed!
When it was first implemented, The Children Act was described as the “most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of parliament in living memory” but 30 years later, has it stood the test of time?
The Guardian has run an article which interviews a range of people from different backgrounds including, parliamentary, social services, courts, councils, and campaigners, on their experiences with the Children Act and how effective it now is in the current system.
It is interesting to see the wide range of opinions and anecdotes of people who have experiences of the Children Act first hand but one over-riding theme that shone through in this article is that, while the Act itself provides good intentions and a solid framework, the reality paints a much different picture. Cuts in services are causing real issues where families are failing to get the support they need when a child is taken in to care and children’s services departments are struggling to implement key parts of the Act due to diminishing funds to local authorities.
In my opinion the aims of the Act were laudable and there have been real improvements with the approach of court professionals, and of the judiciary to family cases generally, and the child is the central focus of every case.
However, the deep cuts that have been made to the budgets of the Department of Justice and of Local Authorities have led to a deterioration in services in the community to protect children and to support families and in their ability to access the family justice system. The obliteration of legal aid for many areas of family law has been an unmitigated disaster.
The high hopes I had of the Act as a young lawyer have sadly not been realised.
Although all parties seem to be throwing spending pledges like confetti none seem to be landing in the area of the family justice system – there are no votes in it I fear, which makes me pessimistic for the future also.
Now more than ever parents and children need access to specialist advice from experienced lawyers.
For legal advice on child law matters including all aspects of child protection, contact Farleys’ experienced family lawyers on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form and a member of the team will get in touch with you.