Corporate parenting enshrined in new Act

Friday 26 May 2017

Children and Social work Act 2017 received Royal Assent

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On 27 April 2017 the Children and Social Work Act received Royal Assent. This is yet another significant piece of legislation further strengthening recognition of the special status of children looked after by local authorities whether under a Care Order or section 20, Children Act 1989.

Section 1 in particular imposes a corporate parenting duty on local authorities toward looked after children and care leavers up to the age of 25. This goes some way to formalising the relationship between those children accommodated under section 20 and their local authorities. Although it has widely been assumed that the local authority ought to act as the corporate parent to all looked after children, it was only those subject to a care order for whom child rights law spelt out specific parental responsibility in statute.

Although section 1, in relation to corporate parenting, is not the equivalent of parental responsibility it is an important step to formalising the overarching statutory role played by local authorities in the lives of all children in care.

For the first time, the requirement to 'act in the best interests' of children also appears in primary legislation, language that correlates with Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and moves away from a more paternalistic language of welfare.

The controversial clause allowing local authorities to be exempted from child rights duties was defeated in the Lords and not reintroduced in the Commons. This clause could have had the effect of diluting the efforts to strengthen protection for children.

Various specific duties are introduced in respect of looked after children and care leavers and it will remain to be seen what resources implications this will have on cash-strapped local authorities.

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