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The Children Act 30 Years Later: Is Change Required?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

The Children Act 1989 was introduced in November 1988 and granted royal assent a year later thus meaning that this month marks thirty years since the legislation began its initial implementation. It is arguable to say that this is one of the most important pieces of family law legislation to have come about within the last century[1] but, within the last thirty years, there have been a vast number of changes within society and as the way in which our country is governed continues to change we are left to question whether or not the Act has been completely effective in keeping up with these advancements and whether further changes are necessary in order to ensure that children are fully protected in our ever-changing modern world.

‘Social Services Involvement/Child Protection’ (Enfield Family Law) <> accessed 18 November 2019

Since the introduction of this crucial piece of legislation the UK government has been forced to make a number of financial cuts across all sectors; a necessary act which has had a vast array of serious consequences across all areas. In terms of the family law sector, there were concerns from the initial introduction of the Children Act regarding how its implementation would be funded[2] and since the cuts were introduced concerns regarding how effectively the legislation can be implemented have only continued to grow. Steve Walker, the director of children’s services for Leeds city council, has made this argument stating that no matter how good the legislation is it will still be implemented with regards to a certain context and, because this has changed as a result of funding reductions, the financial burden placed upon services means that key aspects of the legislation cannot be carried out in the way that they were intended [3]. Al Aynsley-Green, the children’s commissioner for England (2005-2009), further develops this argument by stating that such implementation difficulties have resulted in the children of our country being failed as the services with which they are provided are some of the worst in the developed world and that their quality is continuing to decline as further cuts are made[4]. The number of children in poverty, for example, has been continuously increasing since 2011 and it is now believed that this number is at risk of reaching a record high within the next few years[5], thus showing the true extent of how our failure to implement some of these policies with full effectiveness is effecting the lives of those most vulnerable.

So, would an increase in the funding given to these services alter this problem?

Although this would be beneficial in terms of improving the resources available to allow for the better application of the act it does not change any of the problems which lie within the foundations of the implementation of this act. Al Aynsley-Green, for example, argues that there is a reluctance from both politicians and the general public to put the needs and the rights of children at the heart of both policy and practice and, as Ruth Scotten (a social worker and adoptive parent) points out, this means that children aren’t heard and that the implementation of the legislation is, again, not carried out effectively[6]. This therefore suggests that more needs to be done in order to improve the overall effectiveness of the act than simply providing greater funding to services and that changes must be made to the ways in which we, as a society, view the needs of children.

Natasha Sieradzki (Family Law)


[1] J. Keir and C. Bradley, ‘The Children Act 25 years on – and why the laws on cohabiting couples need reform’ (The Times, 13 October 2016) <> accessed 18 November 2019

[2] A. Elvin, K. Evans, A. Feuchtwang, R. Jones, J. Thoburn and C. Willow, ‘The Children Act 1989: 30 Years On’ (Children and Young People Now, 29 October 2019) <> accessed 18 November 2019

[3] D. Ferguson, ‘Thirty years on, has the Children Act changed family life for the better?’ (The Guardian, 13 November 2019) <> accessed 18 November 2019

[4] Ibid

[5] S. Marsh, ‘British children living in poverty ‘could hit record high’ – report’ (The Guardian, 20 February 2019) <> accessed 18 November 2019

[6] D. Ferguson (n 3)

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