On 6 December 2022, the Children and Families Act 2014 Committee published its report, ‘Children and Families Act 2014: A failure of implementation’.
The post-legislative House of Lords special inquiry committee was appointed in January 2022 to scrutinise how the Children and Families Act 2014, (‘The Act’) is working in practice and whether the Act is fit for purpose.
The aim of the Act was to give greater protection to vulnerable children, better support children whose parents are separating, develop a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities, and provide help for parents to balance work and family life.
The Act introduced a 26-week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings. In private family law, the Act introduced the requirement to attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
The Committee finds that the Act represents a ‘missed opportunity’, which ‘has ultimately failed in meaningfully improving the lives of children and young people.’ Moreover, the report notes that the sheer breadth of areas covered by the Act, together with the lack of concern given to the implementation of the Act, has contributed to children and their families feeling let down by the system.
The report makes several recommendations. In relation to the significant delays in public law proceedings, whereby in the first quarter of 2022, only 17% of cases were concluded within the 26-week limit, the report emphasises the need for the Government to publish ambitious targets, together with an associated action plan, and for an investigation to be conducted by the Family Justice Board.
For private family law, the Committee recommends replacing MIAMs and the mediation voucher schemes with a universal voucher scheme for a general advice appointment. In addition to this, the report advised the Government to urgently evaluate the impact of the removal of legal aid for most private family law cases. Moreover, the report recommends that an impartial advice website should be created to allow separating couples to have access to clear information on the family justice system.
The Committee urged the Government to ‘not to allow another eight years to pass before they make the improvements which are so demonstrably necessary.’
To read the Committee’s full report on the Children and Families Act 2014, please follow the link: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/581/children-and-families-act-2014-committee/news/174947