Here is a bite sized guest article on the changes that are to be made to the Children and Families Bill 2013 and how they affect you
The Children and Families Bill 2013 from Pannone Solicitors
The Children and Families Bill is set to be one of the biggest reforms to child welfare since the Children’s Act 1989. The bill will affect all areas of child health and wellbeing, covering many topics that directly impact families in England and Wales. The Children and Families Bill entered the committee stage on October 10th, a time when the Bill will be scrutinised in great detail in the House of Lords. Following this, proposed amendments can be debated and voted on when the Bill enters the report stage.
It is intended that the bill be put into practise by September 2014; for this to happen Royal Assent will have to be given by the Queen in early 2014.
The following are the proposed changes to adoption and fostering legislation:
Fostering for adoption
Council will see to it that children are placed with potential adopters straight away – the adopters can then foster the child until a long term decision about their care has been made. Depending on what is in the child’s best interest, they may be placed back into the care of their birth parents, wider family members or adopted by the current foster family.
The race and culture of a child will no longer determine the type of adoptive family they are placed with. It is felt that too much emphasis was being placed on whether a prospective adopter shared the same cultural values and background when it might not necessarily be in their best interests. More value shall be placed on finding a stable home and supportive family for children – depending on individual situation.
Speeding up the process
Anyone who has been approved to adopt children would be able to look at the Adoption Register (subject to confidentiality restrictions) and request to start proceedings with a child if they feel they would be able to cater to their needs.
Some areas may have a shortage of approved adopters, and some areas have fewer children in care who need placing in new homes. Under the new changes, local councils would have to let outside adoption organisations check out families in their area with the aim of addressing shortages and getting more children placed with adopters in different areas.
Whilst councils already provide a range of services and support to families post-adoption, reforms would let families choose how their ‘budget’ is spent in terms of help and have a greater say in how the council supports them. This can range from therapy and specialist medical help to therapy and contact issues.
There would be new regulations surrounding an adopted child’s contact with birth parents or family members – contact orders could be made if requested by birth or adopted family members (although the final decision remains with the court). Any contact would have to be assessed to ensure that it is safe and in the child’s best interest.
Contact orders can only be made by the court if they have been asked to, however the court is able to order that certain people are not allowed to contact the child without anyone requesting the order. The orders can be about the adopted child having contact with birth parents or relatives, or anyone who was important in the child’s life. Rules may be set about how, when, where and how often the child keeps in contact with someone, however no matter what rules and orders are set by the court, the child only maintains contact if they want to – they are not required to if it is against their wishes.
Issues with the changes
It has been suggested that putting children into care with prospective adopters before any formal procedures have been started will result in a loophole which could mean children are effectively taken away from their parents and put up for adoption in cases where it might be completely unnecessary.
If a child is placed with a prospective family and remains there for enough time before the court has made a decision regarding the birth parent’s ability to care for the child, potentially the court could decide the child is better off with the prospective adopters - as they wouldn’t have to be uprooted again and could enjoy a stable home life.
Many also feel that the opportunity for children to be placed with wider family members can be lost if the child has already been placed on the adoption register or placed with a prospective family before there is a chance for family members to step forward. This contradicts the legislation in the Children’s Act 1998 which states that, if safe and in their best interests, children should be kept in the care of the birth family.