Today the Queen set out the Government’s legislative plans for the next year in her speech at the state opening of Parliament. Measures which the Government says will put families at the “front and centre of national life” are contained within the new Children and Families Bill, one of 19 Government Bills, announced today.
Here is a summary of the new Children and Families Bill:
Rights for Fathers
The Government intends to strengthen the rights of divorced fathers to see their children 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 says it will consult shortly on how the legislation can be framed.
A child’s ethnic background and that of the prospective adopters will come second to efforts to place the child swiftly in a permanent home. Local authorities in England will not be expected to find a perfect racial match for the child, if there are couples waiting to adopt.
Children in Care
There will be a new time limit for cases of children going in to care. In England and Wales family courts will be required to make a decision on whether a child should be taken from their parents and placed in care within six months.
This is part of the Government’s drive to speed up the adoption process. It believes too many children stay too long in care and miss out on the stability of a caring permanent home.
Flexible Leave for Parents
Mothers will be allowed to transfer some of their maternity leave entitlement to the child’s father and return to work earlier.
Special Educational Needs
Families will get more choice on education for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). The system of SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments will be replaced in England from 2014 by a “single, simpler assessment process and (an) Education, Health and Care Plan”.
All the changes will apply to England, but some such as flexible working will also apply to Scotland and Wales.
Rachel Buckley, Director at Hartnell Chanot & Partners comments: “We welcome these proposed Government changes to support children and family life. In particular the new arrangements for family law which aim to put the needs of the children first. Our core ethos has always been to put children at the centre and we are pleased to see that the Government appears to be adopting this approach.”