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The Children and Families Act has failed to improve the lives of children and young people


3 min read

The Children and Families Act 2014 was envisaged as a landmark piece of legislation. Its impact was intended to be wide ranging, giving greater protection to vulnerable children, better support for children whose parents are separating, a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities and help for parents to balance work and family life.

Regrettably, over the last 11 months our inquiry has shown that this could have been the case had any sustained focus been placed on making the reforms a reality. Instead, it was largely a missed opportunity that has ultimately failed to improve the lives of children and young people.

It was our view that in the eight years since it received Royal Assent, too much of the legislation has sat on the shelf and languished as a result of a lack of sustained implementation, inadequate scrutiny and incessant churn within government. All this has happened against a backdrop of public service failures including poor SEND services, increasing mental health referrals waitlists and ever-growing delays in the family courts. Eight years is a long time in the crucial early years of a child.

The government was well aware of its failings but had done very little to address them

The evidence we received from the government showed that in some cases, such as delays to family justice cases, the government was well aware of its failings but had done very little to address them. In others, such as fostering to adopt, the government's data wasn’t specific enough to allow it to truly measure impact. Most worryingly, in some cases such as assessing the needs of young carers, departments held no data and appeared uninterested in making any attempt at evaluation whatsoever.

When the systems we looked at, including education, family justice and social care, fail to provide adequate support, it is children and their families who bear the burden. Nowhere was this clearer to us than in the current crisis facing children and young people's mental health services. Children and young people with poor mental health face long waiting lists for referrals and treatment. All the while, their mental health continues to decline, increasing their need and making the need for crisis support more likely. In failing to give due concern to children's mental health when constructing the Act and allowing waiting lists to grow to unsustainable levels, the government has failed a generation of children and young people.

One thing clear to us was the value of early intervention. Investing in early intervention can head off crises before they emerge, reducing the need for high-cost interventions later. Despite the clear value of early intervention, it remained absent across many of the areas we looked at, threatening the stability of families and the health of children and young people. We are calling on the government to prioritise early interventions including legal advice appointments for separating couples and improved post-adoption support.

This inquiry has demonstrated that post-legislative scrutiny, whether by Parliament or the government itself, is vital to ensuring legislation is achieving its goals, providing value for money and improving people's lives. We are not the first inquiry to draw attention to the failures facing children, young people and their families, but time and time again little is done to address the problems identified.

The welfare of children and young people should be the government's paramount concern when developing policies in this area. We urge them not to allow another eight years to pass before they make the improvements which are so demonstrably necessary.


Baroness Tyler, Liberal Democrat peer and chair of the House of Lords Children and Families Act 2014 Committee.

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