Children & Families Bill

'Twas Queen's Speech day yesterday - incase you didn't notice. Cue much criticism of the Government for not announcing the "Economic Miracle Bill" or the "Job creation Bill". As if legislation were no more than a fortune cookie. Anyhoo...as anticipated there was a lot of family law stuff in there (not gay marriage tho - sadly). So, thought y'all might like to read the following email from the Ministry of Justice. You can find a bit more info on the Dept of Education website here.

No time to blog properly but 2 thoughts :

1 The email makes no mention of a consultation about the wording of the shared parenting provision, although they are going to consult on the adoption aspects of the bill.

2 The DoE material suggests that "Ministers intend to strengthen the law to ensure children have a relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe and in the child's best interests." and that "The Government believes that this will encourage more separated parents to resolve their disputes out of court and agree care arrangements that fully involve both parents." It may be a daft question, but isn't there a risk that for every parent encouraged to resolve their dispute out of court (by which I think we mainly mean mums who might decide it's hopeless to resist contact where otherwise they may have stood firm), there is another parent encouraged to pursue litigation in order to enforce the "right" granted by the legislation (by which I think we mean mainly dad's who think they are now on a winner)? Just a question.

Now, that email:

As someone with an interest in family justice, we are writing to give you more detail on the Children and Families Bill which was announced in the Queen's speech yesterday.

This Bill would intend to make it easier for parents to share their caring responsibilities; give families of children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities more choice and control; and support some of the most vulnerable children, including those in care or whose parents have separated.

Content of the Bill
We are determined to provide a simpler system for the provision of education, health and social care for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. We recognise that parents continue to face many challenges when their child needs extra support in their education, and even more so when their child has social care and health needs. The proposed legislation would ensure that education; health and social care services are jointly planned and commissioned by local authorities and health services working together. We would also include proposals for local authorities to set out a local offer of all services available to support children or young people who are disabled or who have SEN, and their families across education, health and social care.

The adoption clauses would reduce the time children have to wait for an adoptive placement. It would also see more children placed in stable, loving homes with less delay and disruption and improve their chances of leading full and happy lives. The legislation would prevent local authorities from delaying an adoption by searching for a "perfect match" for a child, particularly a perfect or partial match based on the child's ethnicity.

With regard to family law, although going to court to resolve disputes about children should be the last resort, the proposed legislative changes in this Bill make clear that parents should work together to reach agreements about their child's care when they separate. It would also set out that, where it is safe and in the best interests of the child, both parents should be involved with their child's upbringing as fully as possible. We will consult shortly on how the legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about an equal division of time but the quality of time that a child spends with each parent.  The changes we are planning on public law will mean a care proceedings system in which delay is no longer acceptable and where there is a much clearer focus on the child and their needs.

Through proposals on flexible parental leave we aim to give parents more choice and flexibility about how they share the care of their child in the first year, enabling both parents to retain a strong link with the labour market. Extending the right to request flexible working will give all employees the confidence to ask their employer for flexible working without fear of detrimental treatment.

John Dunford's review of the Office of the Children's Commissioner stated that there was a continuing need for an independent advocate for children and young people, but that the existing legislative framework was limiting the Commissioner from fulfilling that role effectively. We propose to change the function of the Children's Commissioner to one of "promoting and protecting children's rights", enabling the UK to meet better its obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Timing
We hope the Bill will be scheduled for introduction in the second session in the Commons, early in 2013. It would then be carried over into the third session for Royal Assent.

Consultation
All of the proposals in the Bill have already been informed by the views and experience of families and those who work with them. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who took the time to respond to consultations and calls for evidence over the last year, including the special educational needs and disability green paper, the consultation on the Family Justice Review proposals and the Dunford Review.

There will be a full public consultation on our proposals on adoption, and calls for evidence as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process for the proposals in the Bill.

We wanted you to see the main proposals that would be in the Bill now, so that you are aware of what is being proposed. We would like to invite you to continue engaging with us on these matters, and please do get in touch if you have any queries.

 

Just one more V important thing…Family Justice Review

Ministerial Statement to the House

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the Minister with responsibility for children and families, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and I wish to make the following statement to the House about our plans for a comprehensive review of the family justice system.

My hon. Friend and I have asked David Norgrove to build on his preliminary work in this area to undertake a comprehensive review of the family justice system. This review will examine both public and private law cases. In public law this means looking at how the courts, with other agencies, manage cases involving children and the public care system. In private law this means looking at contact and residence disputes between family members and will include considering how to increase the use of mediation when couples break up, and how best to provide greater access rights to non-resident parents and grandparents.

The review will also examine the processes involved in granting divorces and awarding ancillary relief, but will not extend to the law as it relates to the grounds for divorce or the amounts of ancillary relief that should be awarded.

The terms of reference have set this out in more detail and a copy has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The panel is today launching their call for evidence. The panel wishes to hear from children, families, professionals and representative groups involved in the family justice system. A series of questions have been posed to frame responses; a copy of these questions has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Terms of Reference here.

Call for evidence here.

GET YOUR RESPONSE IN BY THE DEADLINE OF 30 SEPT!!

Lib Dem Contact Proposals

A colleague emails:

...When looking through the LibDem manifesto this week, I noticed an express commitment, buried deep in the document at page 52, which may be of some interest (and reads, as follows)....
"The Liberal Democrats will "introduce a default contact arragangement, which would divide the child's time between their two parents in the event of a family breakdown, if there is no threat to the safety of the child"
I'm wondering (a) what the default position will be (b) how many cases I have had in the last 4 years where a care and contact pattern has not been completely tailored to the circumstances of the particular family (less than 1 hand of fingers) and (c) how it would be implemented....?"

He's right on the nail there as far as I can see. But I don't see the other two parties as being exactly a family lawyer's dream party either, so this won't change my vote.

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The Lib Dems will also incorporate the UN Convention on the rights of a child into UK law, publish anonymised Serious Case Reviews and they make a number of generalised pledges about such things as the reduction of child poverty.

Thanks AC for the heads up.