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Kara Swift
Kara Swift
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Children's Commissioner warning on Children and Families Bill

Date:7 MAR 2013

Maggie AtkinsonThe Children's Commissioner has warned that the Children and Families Bill could override the principle that all court decisions should be made in the best interests of the child.

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, has said her office is carrying out a Child Rights Impact Assessment on key aspects of the Bill which we will publish in late February. She will be writing to the Bill Committee with their concerns.  

Commenting on the Children and Families Bill, the Commissioner said: "We wholeheartedly support the objectives of the Children and Families Bill but are concerned about some of the detail.  Some measures proposed could be interpreted as overriding the principle that all decisions are to be made in the best interests of the child, and in general, there needs to be more emphasis on listening to children and young people's views.  We will be writing to the Bill Committee with our concerns.

"We welcome the proposal to strengthen the role and remit of the Office of the Children's Commissioner to both protect and promote children's rights and also to take on the functions of the Children's Rights Director in Ofsted. We very much hope that if this passes into law, we will be provided with ‘reasonable financial provision' to do so, in accordance with the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child General Comment 2 (2002)."

The government published its Children and Families Bill last month which proposes to make changes to family justice, including the law relating to care proceedings, and arrangements for children after divorce or separation.

The Bill includes provisions made in response to the Family Justice Review. These include:

  • setting out the circumstances in which a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) must be attended before family proceedings can be brought;
  • introducing a presumption that the involvement of both parents in a child's life will further that child's welfare, unless the contrary is shown;
  • setting out the circumstances in which expert evidence may be used in court for children proceedings;
  • introducing a 26 week time limit to proceedings for care & supervision orders, with provision for extensions in certain circumstances;
  • introducing a duty on local authorities to consider a "Fostering for Adoption" placement for looked after children for whom they are considering adoption;
  • removing the explicit legal wording requiring adoption agencies to give due consideration to religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background when matching children with prospective adopters.