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Children and families let down due to “inadequate implementation” of landmark act

Publishing the findings of its inquiry into the Children and Families Act 2014, a committee of Lords said the legislation has suffered a “failure of implementation” by successive governments.

07/12/22

Children and families let down due to “inadequate implementation” of landmark act

The Children and Families Act 2014 has been a “missed opportunity” which failed in meaningfully improving the lives of children and young people, according to a group of parliamentarians.

The Select Committee on the Children and Families Act 2014 launched its inquiry into the Act back in March, inviting written evidence contributions.

The central question to the Committee’s inquiry was whether the Children and Families Act 2014 has achieved its aim of improving the lives of children and families, particularly the most vulnerable children and young people in society.

The Committee said that insufficient data and inadequate implementation and monitoring of the Children and Families Act 2014 has made what should have been a landmark piece of legislation a largely missed opportunity to improve the lives of children and young people.

The Act was envisaged to give greater protection to vulnerable children, better support for children whose parents are separating, a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities, and help for parents to balance work and family life.

However, despite these aims, the sheer breadth of the areas covered by the Act, a lack of due concern given to implementation, poor data collection to measure impact and a lack of joined up action at all levels, has contributed to children and their families feeling let down by the system, parliamentarians said.

“The Children and Families Act 2014 was passed with the good intentions of giving greater protection to vulnerable children, better support for children whose parents are separating, a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities, and help for parents to balance work and family life,” Baroness Tyler of Enfield, Chair of the Committee said. “Regrettably, our inquiry has shown that this could have been the case, had any real focus been on implementing and monitoring the impact of the Act, without the added incessant churn within the Government. Instead, it was a missed opportunity and has ultimately failed in meaningfully improving the lives of children and young people.”

“It was not until our inquiry was established that the Government gave any thought to a comprehensive post-legislative review of the whole Act, eight years after it received Royal Assent. Eight years is a long time in the crucial early years of these children.

“Throughout our inquiry, we have sought to hear directly from children, young people and their families and we are grateful for their time and insight, as they shared with us the challenges they face and how they feel let down by the very systems designed to support them.

“The welfare of children and young people should be the Government's paramount concern when developing policies in this area. We urge them not to allow another eight years to pass before they make the improvements which are so demonstrably necessary.”

In response to the findings, the Committee recommended improving post-placement support for adopters and kinship carers, including the expansion of the Adoption Support Fund, allowing it to be used for more than therapy and ensuring it is also focused on early intervention, as well as developing a safe and modern digital contact system for post adoption contact.

Lords also recommended reviewing the current approach to empowering the voice of the child in family law proceedings, including recommending the Family Justice Council reviews the guidance setting out the approach to judges meeting with children.

Commenting on the report, Steve Crocker, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said the report underlines many of the challenges the organisation has been raising “for some time”.

"Some of the reforms included here are having a real and tangible impact, such as the role of the virtual school head in supporting the education of children in care.

“Other reforms included in the Act have progressed less well, or have not had the desired impact for a whole host of reasons, including those relating to special educational, needs and disabilities.

“Often the sufficiency of funding is an issue but there are also difficulties in having the right data or levers to understand what needs to happen and influence others.

Mr Crocker added that, whilst mental health services were not covered in the reforms, the committee drew attention to the difficulties children and young people face in accessing timely support and asserts that the government has not grasped the importance or severity of this problem, my fellow directors and I can only agree.

“ADCS has repeatedly raised the issue of children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing and the urgent need for a review of children’s mental health services - the current system is not working for children and it threatens to overwhelm the social care system.”

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