Letters to Community Care, 12 November 2009

issue of the week ➔Children Act 1989

ne of your correspondents says the Children Act 1989 was Thatcherite and a response to the Cleveland abuse scandal (‘Doubts over councils’ commitment to Children Act 1989′, news, p7, 29 October, www.communitycare.co.uk/112988).

This was not so. The act was apolitical. David Mellor, the minister who took the bill through the Commons, went to an unusual length to secure and keep the consensus by giving the opposition direct access to the official team and by adjourning the standing committee to allow officials to speak. There was a minimum of contested votes.

Nor was the bill a response to Cleveland as it was already the result of considerable consultation starting in 1984 followed by a white paper.Whether the act went too far towards children or towards parents is a matter of judgement.

Rupert Hughes, formerly assistant secretary, Department of Health

s one of the officials who worked on the preparation of the Children Act 1989 and helped negotiate it through parliament, I regret that we were unable to go further. We had a good set of generic principles to work from and an excellent drafting team. Social services legislation at that time was largely the responsibility of the Department of Health and I should have liked to see the process progress through adult legislation towards a more comprehensive welfare act. At the department, we were unfettered by diehards in the child care field and on the legal side we had sufficient champions at the Law Commission not to be held up by issues like wardship. It was a triumph of the act that, largely thanks to the efforts of the Law Commission, it became possible to integrate so much private and public child care law.

There is a tension between the court’s wish to control the outcome of its decisions and the social worker’s wish to get on with the job. The legislation was designed to help social workers but unfortunately for some it has become rather clogged up by the overweening activity by guardians who do not have responsibility for managing the outcome of the court’s decision.

Our main problems seemed to be with the education service, which was more bureaucratic and concerned about the implications for a universal service of our concern for child protection. Subsequent tragedies in the education service might not have happened if our proposals had been accepted. We could also have brought principles to bear on the mental health services that would have connected with the growing move away from the medical model that was begun by social workers, in particular in relation to young people.

Name and address withheld

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