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Children Act 1989

This is the main source of child welfare law for England and Wales. The Act seeks to ensure that every child is kept safe and protected from harm. Its main purpose is to ensure that the welfare and developmental needs of every child are met.

The Act provides the basis in law for most of children’s services’ duties and responsibilities towards children and their families. It also provides the legal framework for the child protection system.

In particular, it places a duty on children’s services to:

  • Identify children in need. Children’s services should provide services and support to children in need so that they may be brought up safely within their own family.
  • Make child protection enquiries whenever there is reason to think that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

Its provisions include:

Children’s services’ duties and responsibilities towards looked after children and their families.

  • A definition of parental responsibility
  • The range of court orders that children’s services and families can apply for.

The Act (and related government guidance) provides a number of key principles. These include:

  • The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration (this is the ‘welfare principle’).
  • Wherever possible, children should be brought up and cared for within their own families.
  • Children’s services and the courts should take into account the wishes and feelings of the child. When doing so, they will need to bear in mind their age and understanding.
  • Sometimes, compulsory intervention in a family is necessary in the interests of the child. This should, whenever possible, support rather than undermine the parents’ role.
  • Courts should work on the assumption that any delay in proceedings involving a child is not good for the child.
    Parents should receive support to remain closely involved in their child’s life (unless this is not consistent with the child’s welfare). This still applies when the child cannot live at home (either temporarily or permanently).
  • A court should only make an order in respect of a child if this is better than making no order. This is called the ‘no order principle’.
  • When a child cannot live with their parents, children’s services should give priority to placement with kinship carers. This means a relative, friend or other connected person.

For more information see:

Children Act 1989

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