What have we learnt over the past 30 years of the Children Act?

The Children Act 1989 was a landmark law for England and Wales giving every child the right to protection from abuse and exploitation and set out ways to safeguard their welfare. Colleagues at The Fostering Network reflect on the Act 30 years on.

When it was passed, the Act was momentous, bringing together previous piecemeal legislation and modernising it to reflect practice. The Act received cross party support and generally was welcomed by practitioners, legislators and others involved in children’s social care.

However, the Act struck a difficult balance between different voices. Namely, those of the child, the birth family, those of child protection and those who feel Government interference in family life should be kept to a minimum. Individual practitioners and organisations were left to balance these often competing perspectives and in the light of austerity and high-profile child protection cases, the balance has at times been skewed across the Act’s 30 year lifespan.

We asked our Chief Executive and Practice Support Team members who work across England and have experience working as social workers under the Act to reflect on what they think the Act has changed for the better and, if the Act were to be updated for 2019, what they would like to see in it.

      1. What has the Children Act 1989 changed for the better?

“For the first time children and young people were seen to have rights” – Helen, Practice Support Team Manager

“The child’s voice became louder” – Kevin, Chief Executive

“This legislation brings together all the regulations and statutory guidance for the welfare and care of children into one overarching framework.” – Sab and Diane, Practice Support Consultants

“The Children Act reinforced the view that the welfare of the child is paramount” – Maria, Practice Support Consultant

“It has evolved and incorporated different children’s needs over time such as disability, staying put and children in need but still reminds us that the child is the priority” – Kim, Practice Support Consultant

    2. If there was a Children Act 2019 what would you like to see in it? 

Relationships, be they with biological siblings, foster carers or foster siblings, to be maintained. 

“The Golden Thread of relationships be maintained to ensure that decisions are based on relationships not processes.” – Kevin

“A section on family and friends – direction for local authorities and courts on their duties and providing a more clear and consistent process of assessment and also of support for kinship carers” – Maria

Even more child-centred with a greater understanding of the life-long impact of care. 

“Enforce a child’s needs led approach to finding the right care option for all children and young people who grow up in public care” – Helen 

“That children and young people are central to the implementation of the law in real practical terms rather than just in theory.” – Sab and Diane

“To ensure that for children and young people who have grown up in public care that they are supported until they are at least 25 years old” – Helen

Recognition of the role of foster carers. 

“The role of foster carers to be legally recognised and in particular delegated authority given a higher prominence” – Kevin

“Permanency in long term care having a greater importance and more recognition” – Kim


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