Significant reforms to services for vulnerable children and radical proposals to allow parents to choose how they share up to a year’s leave to look after their new-born children have been announced.
The Children and Families Bill, published today, includes reforms to adoption, family justice, an overhaul of special educational needs, reinforcing the role of the Children’s Commissioner and plans to introduce childminders agencies. It also includes the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees.
The proposed shared parental leave reforms will give parents much greater flexibility about how they ‘mix and match’ care of their child in the first year after birth. They may take the leave in turns or take it together, provided that they take no more than 52 weeks combined in total.
These changes will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child, help mothers to go back to work at a time that’s right for them, returning a pool of talent to the workforce. It will also create more flexible workplaces to boost the economy.
Speaking ahead of a keynote speech Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said:
I am determined that every young person should be able to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. For this to happen we must tackle the disadvantages faced by our most vulnerable children and families. Our measures in the Children and Families Bill do just that.
In this Bill we will overhaul adoption - breaking down barriers for adopters and provide more support to children. We will reform family justice - tackling appalling delays and focusing on the needs of the child. And we will improve services for vulnerable young people - transforming the special educational needs system and better protecting children’s rights.
Business Minister Jo Swinson said:
Current workplace arrangements are old-fashioned and rigid. The Children and Families Bill will bring the way mums and dads balance their lives at work and at home into the 21st century.
Employers will soon get used to more men taking time off after their child is born and more mothers returning to work earlier, shattering the perception that it is mainly a woman’s role to stay at home and look after the child. These measures will really help our aim of ensuring more businesses are making best use of women’s talents throughout the organisation, from the boardroom to the shop floor.
This Bill will also allow fathers to have greater involvement in the early stages of pregnancy and raising their child.
The new system is good for business as it will create a more motivated and flexible, talented workforce. Employers will be able to attract and retain women and prevent them from dropping out of the world of work once they start a family. Flexible working will also help widen the pool of talent in the labour market, helping to drive growth.
The Bill will include provisions on the following reforms:
- adoption reform: the government wants to reform the system so that more children can benefit more quickly from being adopted into a loving home.
- children in care: educational achievement for children in care is not improving fast enough. The Bill will require every council to have a ‘virtual school head’ to champion the education of children in the authority’s care, as if they all attended the same school.
- shared parental leave: the government will move away from the current old-fashioned and inflexible arrangements and create a new, more equal system which allows both parents to keep a strong link to their workplace.
- flexible working: the government wants to remove the cultural expectation that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers, allowing individuals to manage their work alongside other commitments. This will improve the UK labour market by providing more diverse working patterns.
- family justice: the government wants to remove delays and ensure that the children’s best interests are at the heart of decision making.
- special educational needs: the government is radically reforming the system so that it extends from birth to 25, giving children, young people and their parents greater control and choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met.
- childcare reform: the government is reforming childcare to ensure the whole system focuses on providing safe, high-quality care and early education for children. The Bill introduces childminder agencies which will enable more flexible childminding and removing bureaucracy so that it is easier for schools to offer wraparound care.
- children’s commissioner: the Bill makes the Children’s Commissioner more effective by clarifying his or her independence from government with a remit to ‘protect and promote children’s rights’.
Notes to editors
The government’s ‘Children and Families Bill 2013: contextual information and response to pre-legislative scrutiny’
The government response to pre-legislative scrutiny on our provisions on reform to adoption, family justice, SEN and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner are published as annexes to the command paper.
The ‘Government response to the call for views on the review of contact arrangements for children in care and adopted children and on the placement of sibling groups for adoption’
In response to the call for views on the contact arrangements and sibling placements the government will put the best interests of the child at the heart of contact arrangements and introduce new provisions to deal with formal contact arrangements at the point of, and after, the adoption of a child.
The Ministry of Justice response to the ‘Co-operative parenting following family separation: proposals on enforcing court-ordered child arrangements’ consultation is also published today.
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson will deliver a keynote speech ‘Putting vulnerable children first’ at 10.30am on Tuesday 5 February. The Minister will discuss what the Department for Education is doing across children’s services to improve the life chances of vulnerable children in the context of the Bill. The event is hosted by Barnados at Institute for Government.
Business Minister Jo Swinson will be doing a live Twitter Q&A session at 2.30pm on Tuesday 5 February to answer questions on shared parental leave and flexible working. Follow @bisgovuk to take part.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultation on modern workplaces which includes shared parental leave and flexible working, and the response is available.