During the Queen’s Speech of May 2012, an announcement was made regarding a new bill of law that is aimed at improving the lives of children and families. The bill seeks to implement plans that will permit parents to share parental leave, enabling the father to also take time off during a maternity leave, for example. The bill also proposes to make the process of adoption easier for international families. Along with these changes more options are to be made available for children who have special educational needs. And finally the bill seeks to improve the level of access fathers have to their children after a divorce.
In the United Kingdom as many as 10,000 children are put in the care system each year. This is a substantial number, and the pressure to provide the services that these children need is always increasing. These changes come in the wake of an independent report which recommended flexibility of this kind be given to those families with children under the age of 16 and to the children themselves. The propositions in the new bill will put a stop to delays in adoption cases. The new bill proposes that if a suitable match has been found, then the adoption should proceed unhindered rather than be delayed while a ‘perfect’ match is sought. In addition, compensation will be available to families should the new orders not be enforced.
Previously the ethnicity of a child and of his or her potential adopters was prioritised, but this is also set to change with the new bill, which seeks to make ethnicity secondary to finding the child a permanent placement and home. Further adjustments proposed by the bill include imposing a six-month limit on the resolution of care cases and making the welfare of the child the central concern of the case. The hope addressed with this part of the bill is that any unnecessary and time-consuming procedures, including Interim Care and Supervision Orders, will be removed from the court proceedings.
As these proposed measures reveal, this bill seeks to make many improvements to the welfare of families and children. One further aspect of the bill is an attempt to facilitate a continued relationship between a child and divorced parents. In many cases of divorce, custody of the child will be given to the mother automatically, and the father will have only limited access to the child. The bill hopes to change this; taking into consideration the safety and well-being of the child, if access to both parents is acceptable and safe, the bill makes provision for it.
The various facets of the bill seek to make paramount the welfare of the child and the family. The bill itself has not been met with overall positivity; those in the legal field in particular have differing opinions on the bill’s eventual effectiveness. Some have argued the bill does not, in fact, act in the best interests of either parents or children.
Whatever opinions have been voiced, however, there are some things which remain certain. The care systems that are currently in place to protect children and families are under a huge amount of pressure, and changes really do need to be made. Whether the changes proposed by the bill will actually be to the benefit of children and families can be determined only with time. The proposed time limit for resolving care cases alone could mean important improvements to the care of children. By placing the welfare of children at the forefront, perhaps the bill and its proposed changes will make a much-needed difference.