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Children Act 20 years on: The Lord Laming verdict

Lord Laming: Bad practice undermines aims of the Act

“By any standard the Children Act 1989 was a landmark piece of legislation. It continues to be a credit to the parliamentarians and officials who successfully negotiated it on to the statute book.

It was not an easy task. Fundamentally, the Act, which was not implemented until 1991, recognised that children and young people have a range of needs during their development. As the years go by they will have different needs and possibly changed circumstances.


The Act was framed so that statutory services and the courts could make arrangements to promote the well-being of every child. No matter if the child or young person lives in a family with poor parenting skills, with the breakdown of relationships, domestic violence or mental health problems, or has become a young carer – the law facilitates the most appropriate response.

Most parents, irrespective of their problems, want the best for their children. Often, parenting skills can be taught, families can be helped through periods of crisis and the destructive spiral into neglect can be reversed. Through early intervention, a rigorous assessment of needs and a focused action plan with robust timescales, it may well be possible to sustain and strengthen the family unit. But the focus must always be on the welfare of the child and when that is put at risk, speedy action must be taken. Alas, too often, the assessment of needs, and opportunities to take such early action, are flawed by the failure of key services to exchange important information.

Even worse, sometimes intervention is delayed until there is clear evidence of harm or serious neglect. The Act sought to ensure that the protection of a child or young person is in the context of the promotion of well-being and proper development of all children. Sadly that has yet to be realised at the front door of every service.

Ignorance of the legislation can undermine good practice. The policy of “every child matters” captures the need for a comprehensive and creative response to securing better life opportunities for each child. Achieving this is a challenge for the training of staff and the management of key services. It can be done. We can be ­confident of this because there is some excellent work being done by some very dedicated and competent staff. The next step is to fully implement the vision set by the original 1989 Act by securing good practice everywhere.”

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