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This week, the Department of Education published a Young Person’s Guide to the Children and Families Bill (which had its second reading in Parliament on 25th February) written specifically for a younger audience. The guide, according to the Department’s website, is designed to provide young people with a “good summary” of the proposed changes to the law and what it might mean for them. Edward Timpson MP (Minister for Children and Families) and Jo Swinson MP (Minister for Employment and Equalities) say in their introduction:-
“We think children should know about new laws that will make a difference to their lives. We have asked for a Young Person’s Guide to be written because this law will be very important for children. This Guide tells you what we want the new law to say. We want YOU to know the law we are planning for you”.
The guide, written in plain English with easy to follow sections, sets out the key aspects of the proposed legislation, highlighting the importance of those changes from a child’s perspective. It refers to the broad aims of the Bill citing, just by way of example, the desire to speed up the adoption process (“find more foster carers and more people to adopt children”) and the need to make the family court system both “quicker and simpler”.
Interestingly, the guide also refers directly to the Government’s plan to ‘encourage’ as many separating couples as possible to avoid the court system altogether and find alternative ways to reach agreements. Reflecting the Government’s policy and approach to ADR generally there is a direct plug for mediation. The guide says that separating parents should be helped to “see if they can sort things out without having to go to court”. Perhaps the hope is that young people will encourage their parents to avoid court battles and mediate?
In relation to contact disputes, the statutory presumption that both parents should remain involved in the upbringing of their children (a key aspect of the proposed legislation) is set out in terms that young people (and perhaps their parents) will more easily understand, i.e. that both parents should be involved “if there is a way for this to happen without it being harmful to the child” and “if that is the right thing for the child”. There is specific reference to the fact that children’s views are “important” in making that decision. Whilst the views of the child are one of the statutory factors a court may take into account when making decisions in relation to arrangements for children, it has not (in statute at least) taken precedence over the other statutory factors. Whilst no formal change is proposed to the application of the statutory factors, it is notable that this aspect has been highlighted.
The guide is the logical next step in the Government’s consultation process with young people about the proposed changes to the law. It states “we took notice of what children told us when we decided what to put in the Bill” – a powerful attempt to sway the sceptics?
A copy of the guide can be obtained from The Department of Education's website.
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