We asked four senior figures from the children’s sector if the Children Act has fulfilled its potential to transform children’s lives?
Hugh Pelham, executive director of children’s services, The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (Tact)
“The Children Act emphasised the child’s voice, which was extremely important, but I think the child’s voice is starting to get lost again. Take, for example, independent reviews, where reviewers talk to looked-after children about their experiences in care and any issues that need to be raised. These are held at school and we have learned that children don’t want this. It draws attention to the fact that they are looked after and is therefore discriminative. It suits the adult and not the child. The Act needs to be changed to strengthen the child’s voice.”
Andrew Webb, lead on youth crime, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and corporate director, children and young people, Stockport Council
“The Act was brilliantly drafted but inadequately resourced. It set up a perfect framework for children and young people which, with the Every Child Matters agenda, we are only just starting to realise.
The Act was meant to make the process of going through the courts shorter and easier for children and families, but this hasn’t happened. Personally I would like to see a non-adversarial approach to family justice.”
Kevin Gallagher, chief executive, Bryn Melyn Trust
“Generally speaking the Act has done its job and the picture for children has improved over the past 20 years. But in the same period the level of complexity of needs has increased and the situation is not as it should be for a minority of looked-after children, such as those with the most complex needs and those without stable placements.
These children require the highest level of investment and any revisions to the law should take account of their needs – which we are better able to detect now – and of the children’s select committee report on looked-after children in June.”
Councillor David Bellotti, vice-chair, Local Government Association children and young people board
“The Act is still relevant, but we need to remove the bureaucracy and regulations which the current government has imposed upon the protection of children. I applaud the government’s use of funding put towards this important issue, but what I criticise is the complications they’ve created around it – it’s taking up too much time.
Teachers can’t teach and social workers are so worried about being criticised that they’re not spending times with the families. At the moment we have Ofsted, the Audit Commission and the Care Quality Commission. I’m personally in favour of an inspection system, but we do not need three bodies when one would be sufficient. On top of this, Ofsted and the Audit Commission often disagree, which isn’t helpful to anyone. So I believe we need to strip the Act down to its fundamentals.”
Lord Laming on the Children Act 1989: twenty years on
This article is published in the 29 October 2009 issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Children Act: has it worked?