Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Children and Young Families Bill passes - good news on adoption, SEN Provision and reforms child care

The Children and Families Bill is a very important new piece of legislation. It received its second reading yesterday in the House of Commons and has more pre legislative scrutiny to go.
Amongst other things, the Bill seeks to remove barriers to adoption, transforms the provision for those with special educational needs, extends the use of Direct Payments, reforms support for looked-after children and their carers, and improves flexible working hours and childcare for working parents. There is a welcome emphasis throughout on spreading excellence and protecting the rights of children.
The Bill has been subject to considerable consultation, including a Green Paper, publication of draft clauses, Committee reports, expert input and responses from key outside bodies.
I have a background as a lawyer who worked for families and LEAs on the provision of special education needs; I did over 30 SENDIS Tribunals and multiple IAPs re discipline and drugs in schools. This Bill requires that the new education and health care plans be effective for young people all the way up to 25 years old. Why should a young person with special needs be treated any other way?
The key to the Bill’s approach will be an important new duty on local authorities to set out a “local offer” of suitable schools and institutions for each individual with special needs. But my colleague Jesse Norman MP has outlined that this carries with it a risk: that the new duty will be interpreted in a purely local and parochial way, cutting out national providers with specialist expertise in particular areas.
But there appears to be a straightforward solution to the problem of parochiality: to require that local authorities include national specialist providers as well as regional and local ones in their “local offers”. This has three benefits: it maximises choice, it promotes competition and it preserves the national providers’ deep reservoirs of expertise. And it perfectly fits with the Bill’s distinctively conservative emphasis on excellence and institution-building. It deserves close consideration as the Bill progresses.