Doubts over councils’ commitment to Children Act 1989

Our exclusive survey shows many are critical of local councils’ safeguarding role

Most social workers believe the Children Act 1989 is still fit for purpose, according to a survey conducted by Community Care to mark the Act’s 20th anniversary. But many are concerned about local authorities’ adherence to the laws.

Of the 101 respondents to the online survey, 57% said they disagreed with the statement that “local authorities always safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need”. Only 25% said they agreed, with just 3% strongly agreeing.

On a similar note, 58% of respondents disagreed that local authorities fulfilled their duty to ensure children in need received the support they were entitled to.

Concerns were also raised around children in care. While 48% agreed that children’s wishes and feelings were taken into account when decisions were made to take them into care, many more expressed doubts when it came to details.

For example, exactly half said the Act did not ensure that children in care were placed with their siblings, while 40% said they did not think children in care were accommodated near their homes when this was in their best interests.

John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development at the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (Baaf), said these two factors were vital to a child’s development.

“In principle, keeping siblings together is very important. Often siblings are the most consistent relationship in a child’s life,” he said.

“However, the age range within a sibling group makes identification of needs difficult and circumstance can be complex. So the issue has to be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Almost half of respondents – 46% – said they strongly disagreed that the Act should be amended to allow family courts body Cafcass the freedom not to appoint named guardians for children (see page 20).

This finding comes as a wide range of children’s organisations teamed up this week, under the banner of the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children, to lobby for section 41 of the Act to remain as it is.

What you say is good and bad about the Act 20 years on

Many respondents shared their views on the Children Act 1989 with us by commenting at the end of the survey. Some of the highlights included:

“The Children Act may still be fit for purpose but local authorities are failing to provide the resources needed and identified in care plans. The legal system is being dismantled by changes in the system to funding solicitors and barristers, thus losing the most experienced and committed as their firms will no longer subsidise family work.”

“We need to remember that the 1989 Act was a Thatcherite Act and a response to Cleveland. It was a parent’s charter, not a children’s charter. It removed permanency planning from the social work role and led to a lack of positive interventions until New Labour brought permanency back via Quality Protects (one of the few useful things they did for our profession).”

“The fundamentals of the Children Act still seem sound but the execution has suffered. There seems to be a presumption by the courts and by guardians that family is ALWAYS the best place for a child – so far that the ‘rights’ of family override the best interests of the child in the longer term.”

“Currently the child/young person has far too may rights, or are more aware of their rights, making it almost impossible for all multi-disciplinary teams working with children to provide full care in the interests of the child. For the act to work, the rights of the child need to be re-addressed.”

Related articles

Lord Laming on the Children Act 1989: twenty years on

Honor Rhodes: why I love the Children Act 1989


Sir Roger Singleton on why the Children Act 1989 came about


Children Act 20 years on: sector views


Children Act, 20 years on: Is the definition of children in need too restrictive?


Children Act, 20 years on: Care pressures threaten guardian role

Children’s Act, 20 years on: Fathers’ rights under review

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