The Children and Families Act has been given royal assent, completing its passage through parliament.
The legislation, which was originally published in February 2013, will now come into force later this year.
The Act makes a number of significant changes to children’s law in England and Wales. These include:
- The right to say with foster families until the age of 21, rather than 18 as at present.
- Improvements to the standards of care offered by children’s homes.
- Improvements to the communications of carer’s rights to support from their local councils.
- Improved support for children whose parents are separating.
- New help for children with disabilities and special needs.
- Changes to the adoption system so that children in care can be placed more quickly.
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said:
“The Children and Families Act is all about reforming services for vulnerable children – reflecting this government’s deep determination to give every child, whatever their start in life, an equal chance to make the best of themselves.”
“Our adoption reforms will help the 6,000 children who need loving homes to be adopted. Our reforms to special educational needs will see a system introduced which is designed around the needs of children and will support them up to the age of 25. For children coming into the care, the new 26-week time limit for care proceedings will reduce unnecessary delays. Virtual school heads will champion their education; children in residential care will live in safer, better quality homes and care leavers will have the option to stay with their foster families until they turn 21.”
The Act also includes changes to employment rights affecting children. These include:
- The right, from April next year, to share parental leave after the birth of a child.
- The right, from April next year, to adoption leave and pay similar to those available to biological parents.
- A new right for all employees to request flexible working arrangements from 30 June this year, and a new requirement that employees consider such requests in a “reasonable” manner.
Jenny Willott, the Employment Relations Minister, said:
“Current workplace arrangements have not kept up with the times. The Children and Families Act will bring the way new parents balance their working and home lives into the 21st century.”