Term Paper: Children's Rights in the Children Act 1989 United Kingdom

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Children Act 1989

Many legal frameworks both national and international make particular provision for the protection of children, a recognition both that children are weaker and require protection and also that children are threatened and so, again, require protection. In the United Kingdom, the Children Act 1989 is a law intended to provide special protection for children.

Under this law, all child care relating to children being accommodated by the Local Authority is covered. The law is based on certain beliefs, notably the following:

The best place for children to be protected is within their own homes.

The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration.

Parents should continue to be involved with their children and with any legal proceedings that may concern them, and legal proceedings should be unnecessary in most instances.

The welfare of children should be promoted by a partnership between the family and the Local Authority.

Children should not be removed from their family, or contact terminated, unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.

The child's needs based on race, culture, religion and language must be taken into account by the Local Authority

The Law Relating to Children 2008, para. 1).

The law is based on the idea of parental responsibility and so summarizes the duties, rights, powers, and responsibilities of the parent with respect to the child. The Local Authority is assigned a duty to protect and promote the welfare of a child in need in its area, and a child in need is defined as "one whose health or development is likely to be impaired if he or she is not provided with a service, or a child who is disabled"

The Law Relating to Children 2008, para. 3). In some cases, the child must be provided accommodation, assuming that:

There is no parent with parental responsibility for them They are lost or abandoned

The person who has been caring for them is prevented from providing suitable accommodation or care

The Law Relating to Children 2008, para. 3). The most important principle governing the actions of the Local Authority and any court proceedings that might be deemed necessary is the welfare of the child, taking into account the wishes of the child (if these can be ascertained); any physical, emotional, or educational needs of the child; the effects change may have on the child; the age, sex, and background of the child; any hamr that the child may have experienced; the ability of the parents to meet the needs of the child; and the power available to the Court under the Children Act

The Law Relating to Children 2008, para. 3).

The scope of the Act is wide, with major implications for the practice of all those who work with children. The Act changed the standing of children and young people under the law and introduced new concepts relating to the responsibilities of adults. It further changed the structure and functioning of the courts while providing a new range of orders relating to the care of children (an Overview of the Children Act 1989-2008, p. 1).

Eliot (2006) notes how an analysis of the situation in the UK found "problems in the adequate delivery of services to children in need [that] began to demand attention and remediation. Another factor was the gradual privatization of services through Foundation Trusts, which essentially created competitive forces in the social service marketplace and drew workers away from the public system, resulting in a kind of brain drain" (para. 11). This would be the impetus for the passage of the Children Act of 1989, called "the most comprehensive piece of legislation which Parliament has ever enacted" (para. 12). As Eliot writes,

Its broad aim was to strike a new balance between the protection of children and family responsibility and autonomy. In turn, it emphasized the responsibility of local authorities to respond to the problems facing children in need in order to reduce their need to be brought into care. These goals reflected the perennial debate on both sides of the Atlantic as to whether priority should be given to family preservation or to child protection (para. 12).

This law was followed in 2000 by the Children Leaving Care Act, along with recent specialized programs (such as Quality Protects and Choice Protects) designed to give improved child and carer support and to prevent placement breakdown and "foster drift," which is usually cited in both the United Kingdom and the United States as having the primary negative impact on children in care. In the United Kingdom, for example, one in six foster children move three or more times during the course of a single year, and one in ten have more than ten moves while in the foster care system. Current efforts are now focused on the Green Paper, called Every Child Matters, which in its final form will determine policy for the next several years (para. 12).

Another impetus for this legislation was the various social care scandals that afflict the system, just as they do in the United States. It was evident that a more stringent system was needed and that the responsibility of caregivers had to be given more attention. On the time since passage of the Act, it was evident that professionally trained individuals in both the clinical and the management areas were vitla for achieving the goals of the proposed new programs, and one problem was that there has been a growing lack of suitably qualified social workers, increased by the high cost of living in some arteas as well as by the nature of the work, a lack of experience and education, and similar problems keeping the government from filling these posts. Eliot herself worked in the system as consultation officer, a new post, and notes that her own primary concern was "the dearth of qualified mental health professionals who were available and willing to evaluate and treat young people in care" (Eliot 2006, para. 19).

In spite of this new law, criticism of the service has been considerable. Hirst (2001) cites some of the scandals and sees these tragedies as proof that the system is failing. A number of children have died while supposedly under the protection of the system: "Regrets have been expressed and changes made. The Children Act 1989 and a battery of other laws and regulations require social services, the police and other agencies to investigate and, above all, listen to children when serious neglect or abuse is suspected" (p. 10).

As noted, similar problems have occurred in the United States and have been cited in calls for reform there as well. The American system had much the same rationale behind it as the UK system for most of the last century or so, but the emphasis changed later in the Twentieth Century not because of scandals occurring when children are abused or killed but because of a perception that many more young people were committing worse and worse crimes. The U.S. system then went the other way and reduced some of the protections that had been given to children before.

Bennett notes that one of the consequences of increasing teenage crime and drug use in the U.S. has been a new intolerance expressed in the juvenile justice system through programs emphasizing punishment. Rehabilitation had been a strong objective in juvenile justice even after it had become discredited for adult offenders, with the idea being that rehabilitation should be possible for young offenders before they become too hardened. Much of this intention has withered away to be replaced more and more by mandated prison sentences and an emphasis on punishment. By 1983, 48 states and the District of Columbia had taken away much of the discretion of judges in setting sentences (Bennett 1989, p. 68). As early as 1978, public dissatisfaction had caused all fifty states and the federal government to enact statutes under which juveniles could be tried in adult courts, but even this has not worked as intended: "The very mandated sentences that are supposed to make life harder for criminals make it much more difficult to prosecute a youngster" (Bennett 1989, p. 68).

Curran (1988) examines the trends in the U.S. juvenile correctional system and finds a movement toward deinstitutionalization, accompanied by legislation addressing the development of community-based corrections. Curran finds that there has been increased funding to allow for the treatment of many nondelinquent juveniles outside the formal justice system in private agencies, but existing public institutional facilities have also been maintained. While the juvenile population under direct governmental supervision has declined significantly since 1970, the total number of youthful offenders held in custody has changed little (Curran 1988, pp. 363-378). Curran believes that this dual system does not bode well for the protection of the rights of juvenile offenders, and there are also uncertainties in terms of security for the public in the face of privately operated diversionary programs.

Gardner (1987) discusses a recent trend in the emergence of the punitive sanction in juvenile justice… [END OF PREVIEW]

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