By J. Brock (FINN)
A public meeting to discuss the Childrens Bill 2014 was held at 1700hrs in the Court and Assembly Chamber of the Town Hall on Monday, 26 May 2014. The Honourable Mr Mike summers, MLA chaired the meeting in which there was a presentation by Ros Cheek about the Bill and a question and answer period afterwards.
Mr Summers said that The Hon Mr Roger Edwards and the Dr the Hon Barry Elsby were away on Assembly business. MLAs present were Cheek, Hansen, Poole, Rendell and Short.
Mr Summers said that members had been through the Childrens Bill in considerable detail with those responsible for drafting, researching and otherwise working on it. He went on to say that the balance between the need to protect children and the need for family life had been struck so that Government wouldnt be intrusive in peoples lives. One or two issues are outstanding one to do with the role of the Safeguarding board and the other to do with private fostering.
Comments made at the meeting would be taken on-board so that MLAs can be comfortable with the way the Bill is written.
Mr Summers went on to say that the old Childrens Bill is over 20 years old. Given whats happened during the last two or three years, perhaps it is tempting to think we are slamming the door after the horse has bolted. He said. He said that the number of people locked up for child abuse was due to the good work of the Police, Social Services Department, the AGs Chambers and the Courts.
He finished his introduction by saying it would make the law much clearer about what the Governments responsibilities are in respect of protecting children and making sure we are working to current good practice in terms of making sure our children are well protected.
Dr Hillary Rowland then said a few words about the Lucy Faithful report. She reminded everyone about the Lucy Faithful Report making 15 recommendations which were taken to EXCO with an action plan around all that work including the Child Ordinance that would be presented at this meeting. Also on the list was the scrutiny of Social Services staff, work at the nurseries and thinking about promoting child safety. Six months on, weve done most of that. Next month we will launch a campaign for Child Safety and weve got a new Probation officer in place.
She also mentioned an extra social worker and the importance of working with the nurseries. The Government has taken this work very seriously important but it must be put into context. She went on to say that the Bill has 101 Clauses and six Schedules.
She commended the teams that were involved in coming up with the 15 recommendations and the action plan.
Ros Cheek presented a series of nine slides about the Childrens bill 2014. The bill is to bring the legislation to a point of modernising the standards to a minimum necessary in terms of the staged process mentioned previously. Potentially the Bill could affect other areas of legislation but the focus at this time was on Child Protection.
The 1994 legislation is to be replaced by an entirely new Bill dealing with all the law in one place. Although over 100 Clauses long, Ms Cheek said approximately 50% of it was new. Importantly it is necessary to understand the legislation we already have.
In summarising the existing provisions Ms Cheek said that FIG already does have substantial powers to protect children from significant harm. The reference to the risk of significant harm is the threshold where FIG will step in to protect children. This will continue to be the case under the new legislation. Other aspects of current FIGs role in Child Protection are:
1. Care Orders The Crown can apply to take a child into their care if the Crown believes it is necessary 2. Supervision Orders Children can be put under the supervision of the Court while still in the care of their parents or other carers as appropriate 3. Emergency Protection Order if a child is at risk of immediate harm steps can be put in place to try and protect children.
Others also have a role in Child Protection:
1. Parental responsibility orders orders are already available under existing legislation for the parental responsibility to be granted by the Court to unmarried fathers. 2. Private Law Provisions orders dealing with children in circumstances where parents disagree about provisions that should be put in place - residents Contact and other issues that area of the law isnt changing.
The new provisions provide for:
1. Provision for early help to be provided to children in need Duties and services to be provided by FIG to avoid crisis and prevent a situation where a care order is needed and taking extreme steps to protect children. The Bill imposes a number of specific duties on FIG to help in that process. 2. The Bill would also make provision for parental responsibility to be given to unmarried fathers, mandatory registration at the time of birth. All by agreement under order of the Court 3. There is a new provision for parental responsibility to be given to step-parents by agreement with the Court 4. Proposing the introduction of a statutory Falkland Islands Safeguarding board. 5. Private Fostering: Something that is not currently regulated at the moment and the Bill proposes that private fostering be introduced 6. Education Supervision orders. There is already provision for supervision of children by the Court. This new provision would supplement that specifically in relation to children who are being properly educated and it also supplements existing provisions in the Children Ordinance.
Ms Cheek said that in reference of FIGs duty to provide for children in need -
1. Specifically to promote the safety and welfare of children in need is new under the ordinance. Whilst some services may already be provided, 2. The Bill specifically proposes that a specific duty be put on FIG to do that. When it is consistent with that duty, the upbringing of children within their families will be promoted, provided it is safe to do so.
The last slide defined what children in need are that will lead to provision of care from FIG.
1. Unlikely to achieve or maintain reasonable health or development 2. The childs health and/or development are likely to be significantly impaired without provision for that need 3. The child is disabled.
More examples of what the duties are were given:
1. To provide early help before a crisis arrives to support families with what they might need and to bring that to children within those families if at all possible through the provision of accommodation if necessary. 2. The provision of services for children in care imposing a statutory duty on the Crown to provide specific services for children who are in the care of the Crown. 3. A duty of regular review of cases of children in the care of the Crown that children in care are not forgotten about and making sure they get the best care possible. 4. Children not receiving care or contact from their parents during the process there is provision for children to be visited by independent persons when they are in care. 5. Provision for both children and parents to be given access to advice so the needs of the children and the parents are properly represented throughout the process. 6. Every child in care should have a pathway plan. If a child is brought into care everybody involved in that childs care should be given a plan so he or she can move forward to make sure they move forward while in FIGs care. 7. Specific duties on FIG to provide services in some cases after the child leaves care, for example, additional support for education.
Touching on an earlier point about acquisition of parental responsibility Ms Cheek said that an unmarried father under the Bill would be able to gain parental responsibility through registration at birth. At the moment, she said, if an unmarried father registered as the father of the child they dont automatically gain parental responsibility. She added that parental responsibility also included rights in relation to the upbringing of the child.
She went on to say that alternatively an unmarried father could have his parental responsibility approved by the Court. Step-parents can also now acquire parental responsibility by agreement with Court approval. And in all these cases an application to the Court in relation to agreement should be made. Safeguarding Board:
1. A board tasked with the co-ordination of Safeguarding and protection of children which already exists on a non-statutory framework. 2. Set out the functions and procedures of the board a. like monitoring the organisations ability to safeguard children b. co-ordinating training to make sure that training is effective throughout all government departments involved in safeguarding children c. Case reviews a serious case review about lessons learned if a child is subject to serious harm or potentially death. d. It would look at the information to see if this could be prevented in future
3. The board would produce reports for Executive Council and Legislative Assembly 4. The supply of information from enabling bodies. The select Committee want to be reassured that any powers which the board has in relation to obtaining information from individuals outside the FIG system are appropriate.
Finally, private fostering would be regulated. This is a provision for a child who is living with someone who doesnt have parental responsibility for more than 28 days. This does not include children in care, who fall into a different category. According to Ms Cheek it is too early to see which way this item will go. The existing provisions in the Bill include:
1. Children Under 16 or disabled children under 18 or 2. Whose parents have made private arrangements for the care of their children, for example, those coming into Stanley to go to school rather than staying in the school hostel they stay with friends or relatives in town. 3. There is a duty on FIG to ensure the childs safeguarding and promoted. Social Services would check on these children.