Children Act 1989
The Children Act 1989 was introduced to provide comprehensive legislation that ensures the developmental needs and welfare requirements of children are met and they are protected from any form of harm.
There are specific principles in the Act which reflect the guidance contained within the UNCRC including respect for a child’s race, culture and ethnicity, protection from harm and the responsibility of parents to bring up children and consider the child’s wishes when decisions are being made that affect them.
Welfare Principles of Children Act 1989
Welfare Principles contained within the Act include a Cardinal principle which means that the welfare of the child should be at the centre of any decision made in relation to the child.
This applies in particular when there has been an issue relating to the child’s upbringing that must be decided by a court using this legislation. This welfare principle does not however apply to every situation which relates to a child. Orders will not be made unless it is in the child’s best interests to do so. Unnecessary delays should also be avoided as far as possible.
There are several key principles contained within The Children’s Act including;
This was introduced to replace the previous concept of custody and it states that parents must be responsible for their children and any decisions regarding education, welfare or other areas of the child’s life should be discussed between both parents. From birth, a mother has an automatic right to parental responsibility. The parental responsibility of the father does depend on several factors;
If the father is married to the mother before or after the birth of the child, he will receive automatic parental responsibility
If the child’s birth was registered on or after the 01st December 2003 and the mother and father registered the birth of the child together, the father has automatic parental responsibility
A father who was not present at the registration of a birth or the child’s birth was registered before 01st December 2003, the mother can agree that the father also has parental responsibility. This is achieved through obtaining a parental responsibility or order which must be awarded by a court.
Child Arrangements Order
As of the 22nd April 2014, contact orders and residence orders were revoked and replaced with what is known as a child arrangements order. This order will specify who the child is to live with and who they spend time with.
Child arrangements order (who a child should live with) – This will clearly state who the child will live with and when. The individual who holds this order is also able to take the child on holiday overseas for a period of no longer than one month unless the court says that they cannot do this.
In some orders, a child may live with both parents. Orders will cease when a child reaches the age of 16 or if both of the biological parents live together for a period of more than six months.
Child arrangements order (who a child spends time with) – The order may require that the individual who the child lives with grants permission for the child to stay or visit a named individual. This order also expires on the child’s 16th birthday.
Prohibited Steps Order
If one of these orders is granted, an individual with parental responsibility cannot take a specific step unless they have permission from the court. This order will prevent certain actions being taken or imposed such as medical procedures without permission from the court.
Specific Issue Order
This order will allow a parent or another person to request that the court allows them to exercise parental responsibility such as making a decision about schooling or medical treatment
The first section of the Children Act 1989 maintains that the welfare of the child should be the main consideration when any decisions are made. When the court is considering a Section 8 Order the court must determine;
- The wishes of the child taking into consideration their age and understanding
- The child’s educational, physical and emotional requirements
- How the change in circumstances will affect the child
- Considerations such as the child’s age or background should be made
- The capability of the parent(s) or the person to which the question applies is able to meet the needs of the child
- What powers the court has under the Children Act to reach a decision
All of the Orders outlined above including Contact Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders, Residence Order and Specific Issue Order are issued under Section 8 of the Children Act
Local Authority The Children Act 1989
The Children Act 1989 places obligations on the local authority and partner agencies as well as parents and the courts to ensure that children are safeguarded and protected from harm and their welfare is promoted. The legislation is based on the principle that children are best cared for by their own families and it outlines key provisions which can be implemented if this doesn’t happen.
Children Act Updates
In 2004 a further Act was introduced that strengthened the legislation from 1989. The newest piece of legislation was implemented to encourage partnership working between agencies and it established greater accountability. The new Act brought in the following changes;
Created an opening for the Children’s Commissioner of England
All local authorities are under a duty to appoint a director of children’s services and an elected lead member for Children’s Services who are personally accountable for service delivery
Local authorities and partner agencies such as healthcare providers, the police and youth justice should fully cooperate in order to promote children’s wellbeing. In addition, arrangements must be in place to promote and safeguard the welfare of children
Specific pieces of legislation were also introduced in relation to physical punishment. The updates restricted the use of a defence on the grounds of ‘reasonable punishment’. This can no longer be used when individuals are charged with a variety of child offences such as actual or grievous bodily harm, cruelty or wounding. If a child receives an injury and it is so serious that it would result in the offender being charged, the offender cannot justify their actions as being a ‘reasonable’ punishment.
The Children Act 1989 and the newest Act from 2004 collectively aim to promote the welfare and safeguard children from harm.
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