Children and Families Bill to give families support


The Government is to overhaul the special educational needs (SEN) system and reduce delays in the family justice and adoption systems, under new legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The planned Children and Families Bill will deliver better support for families – legislating to break down barriers, bureaucracy and delays which stop vulnerable children getting the provision and help they need.

The Bill would introduce a single, simpler assessment process for children with SEN or disabilities, backed up by new Education, Health and Care Plans - part of the biggest reforms to SEN provision in 30 years.

It would speed up care proceedings in family courts so children do not face long and unnecessary hold ups in finding permanent, loving and stable homes – with the introduction of a new six-month time limit on cases and other reforms. Children currently wait an average of 55 weeks for court decisions.
It would also include legislation to stop damaging delays by social workers in matching parents to ethnic minority children - black children already take 50 per cent longer to be adopted than white children or those of other ethnicities.

 It would strengthen the law so children have a relationship with both parents if families break up – if that is in their best interest. Ministers will consult shortly on the legal options about how this would work.

 And it would strengthen the powers of the Children’s Commissioner – to champion children’s rights and hold government to account for legislation and policy.

The Children's Minister Sarah Teather said: "This Bill will mean that children and families get the support they need when they need it most - just after birth; if they have a disability or special educational need; when parents separate; or if they are in care, waiting for adoption."

However, Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, was critical of the planned changes to SEN assessment. She said: "The current SEN Code of Practice enshrines entitlements for children and young people and should not be revoked. There has been no call for its withdrawal or revision from any quarter."

But the planned changes were welcomed by John Dickinson-Lilley, from the charity Sense. He said: "The current system is extraordinarily complex, leading to fraught experiences for deafblind and multi-sensory impaired children.

"We welcome the commitment to have a single assessment and plan for health, education and social care for disabled young people, but this must be underpinned by clear statutory obligations on all education, health and social care agencies and settings including academies and free schools."

 The Bill is expected to be introduced early in 2013.