Skip to main content

A Failure of Implementation (Children and Families Act 2014 Committee Report)

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Children and Families Act 2014 Committee A Failure of implementation (HL Paper 100).

My Lords, it is a real pleasure and privilege to open this debate. The purpose of the Select Committee’s special inquiry, which I had the honour to chair, was to conduct post-legislative scrutiny on the Children and Families Act 2014, a seminal and wide-ranging piece of legislation. I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Group for Children and my former interest as chair of Cafcass.

I start by thanking a number of people: my fellow committee members for all their highly insightful contributions; our excellent clerks, Theo Demolder and Christopher Clarke; our policy analyst, Sarah Jennings, who stepped up magnificently when Theo moved on; and our operations officer, Matteo Garelli, for whom no task was ever too much effort. I also thank Louise Shewey, our communications officer who was involved throughout, not just at the end. Finally, I thank our two special advisers, Professor Rob George and Professor Julie Selwyn.

The Act was envisaged as a landmark piece of legislation, giving greater protection to vulnerable children, including those being fostered and adopted; better support for children whose parents were separating; a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities; and help for parents to balance work and family life. Given the breadth of the Act, the committee focused on areas that we felt would be most likely to benefit from further scrutiny—principally adoption, family justice and employment rights.

One area we looked at which we felt was missing from the Act was mental health, because when those systems that I just mentioned fail, it is children’s mental health that suffers. I hope that other colleagues will focus on that in the debate today. We also looked briefly at special educational needs but, to ensure that our insights could feed into the SEND Green Paper, we sent a letter to the Government in May setting out our concerns, well before publication of the main report.

So how did we go about our work? We took oral evidence from 44 expert witnesses and received more than 150 written evidence submissions. Above all, however, we wanted to hear directly from members of the public who might not otherwise take part in Select Committee inquiries. We visited a school and a SEND centre. We spent a day at the court in Oxford and an afternoon at the Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell. We held round-table discussions with birth parents, adoptive parents in Yorkshire, young people with experience of the family justice system and people working in mental health, as well as conducting an online survey.

Our reluctant conclusions were that, despite the admirable intentions of those who worked hard to get this Act on the statute book, the sheer breadth of the areas covered by the Act, a lack of any real focus given to implementation and a lack of joined-up action at all levels—compounded, I must say, by incessant churn by government—have contributed to too many children and their families feeling let down by the systems, resulting in poor SEND services, increasing mental health referral waiting lists and ever-growing delays in family courts. In short, we felt that it was a missed opportunity.

We concluded that much of the legislation had, frankly, sat on the shelf and languished as a result of that lack of focus on implementation, poor or non-existent data and inadequate monitoring of the impact of the Act to see how well it was working, hence the title of our report. In my view, it was not until our inquiry was established that the Government gave any thought to a comprehensive post-legislative review of the Act, eight years after it received Royal Assent. After pressing, we finally received a post-legislative memorandum, despite the Government’s public commitment to produce such a memorandum three to five years after an Act receives Royal Assent. Eight years is a long time in the crucial early years of a child. Post-legislative scrutiny, by either the Government or Parliament, is not just a “nice to have”; it is crucial to ensure that legislation is achieving its goals, providing value for money and improving people’s lives.

Why is it that we spend so many hours doing line-by-line scrutiny of legislation but next to no time following through to see whether implementation has happened and has worked? I cannot help feeling that we have the balance badly wrong. This is a wider point about how we govern and the purpose of legislation, which is way above my pay grade, but I hope that those in positions of power will reflect on how post-legislative scrutiny can be taken more seriously and not viewed just as a “nice to have”. There is so much more that government and Parliament could do.

Our report made a number of specific recommendations on how the Government could realise their ambitions contained in the Act across adoption, family justice and employment rights. I shall briefly go through some of the main ones. They included establishing an outcome-focused taskforce, accountable to the Secretary of State and dedicated to addressing the unacceptable ethnic and racial disparities in the adoption system; reinstating the statutory national adoption matching register on its original terms, working with commercial service providers to build a more functional platform which combined the usability of existing services with the matching support and referral requirements of the statutory register; improving post-placement support for adopters and kinship carers, including the expansion of the Adoption Support Fund, allowing it to be used for more than therapy and ensuring that it is focused also on early intervention; and developing a safe and modern digital contact system for post-adoption contact. The committee felt strongly that the failure to modernise contact threatens to undermine the adoption system.

The report also recommended: addressing the ever-growing delays in public family law cases, which began in 2017, long before the pandemic. The latest data shows that the 26-week target now stands at 46 weeks, which is a huge issue of concern. That requires improved data gathering and sharing, and top-level leadership of a fragmented system through the Family Justice Board. Other recommendations were: producing an impartial information website for separating couples, providing clear guidance on the family justice system and reconsidering proposals to make mediation obligatory, replacing the current MIAMs and the mediation voucher with a universal voucher scheme for a general advice appointment; reviewing the current approach to empowering the voice of the child in family law proceedings, including recommending that the Family Justice Council reviews the guidance setting out the approach to judges meeting with children; and creating an ambition to move towards a new, dedicated 12-week parental leave allowance and making flexible working a day-one right to request. On the latter, I am pleased to say that the Government committed to that on the very day our report was published. Finally, we urged the Government to improve their systems for monitoring and assessing the implementation of legislation, particularly by robust data sharing and collection. I very much hope that other committee members today may be able to focus some of their remarks on some of these quite disparate issues.

I will say a quick word on special educational needs, which was not one of our main areas of focus but came up repeatedly in our engagement activities. Part 3 of the Act reformed the law on support for children and young people with special educational needs or who are disabled. It was intended to reduce the fight families faced to get the support their children need and to deliver integrated support across education, health and social care. The legislation received a great deal of detailed scrutiny, and it was widely supported. The consensus is that it remains the right legal framework. Sadly, however, the reality of implementation has not matched the ambitions of the legislation—a key theme of our report. At the time, the Government said that the test of the reforms working would be a reduction in the number of appeals to the tribunal. However, the opposite has happened: tribunal numbers have soared, and in the vast majority of cases, the tribunal finds in favour of the parent. I cannot help reflecting that the fact that there have been seven different Children’s Ministers since the review was launched in 2019 is relevant here. Last year, the Government published a new Green Paper on SEND, and this year followed that up with an improvement plan. Could the Minister give me an update on what has happened since that plan was published?

Finally, we also looked at some critical cross-cutting issues, including mental health, early intervention, data collection and data sharing. On the latter point, the Health and Care Act 2022 introduced significant improvements to information sharing between health and adult social care. I had hoped that the Government’s recent review of children’s multiagency information sharing would achieve parity for the children’s system, but I do not believe it has. The report does not go far enough to address the distinct barriers faced by children’s health, social care and other key partners, nor does it set out a clear policy on a consistent child identifier, which I find very disappointing. It is crucial that government moves forward with pilots of the NHS number as a consistent child identifier as soon as possible. Will the Minister agree to meet with me and other interested Lords on this issue?

The Government’s response was published on 6 February; I thank Ministers for that. The committee’s report contained 24 conclusions and 17 recommendations. Overall, the Government broadly agreed with many of the committee’s findings but rejected many of our specific recommendations. In doing so, they often pointed to existing interventions and policy measures which they deemed sufficient to address the committee’s concerns. I found this really disappointing after all the effort the committee had put in.

Finally, I turn to some specifics. Can the Minister give me an update on a few issues that were left vague in the response? In particular, when will the Government next publish data on the time it takes for ethnic-minority children to be adopted? What are the results of their reflections on what more can be done to ensure that the Family Justice Board is as effective as possible, including the committee’s recommendation that there should be a senior independent chair? When can we expect to see the final report of the Government’s review of the presumption of parental involvement? When will the Family Procedure Rule Committee publish a response to its consultation on early resolution of private family law arrangements?

The Government’s response placed a strong focus on their new children’s social care implementation strategy, entitled Stable Homes, Built on Love, published in February in response to The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. It stated that the strategy contained ambitious plans to take forward and build on the Children and Families Act, including issues raised by the Select Committee report that required further examination. I hope we will see that in practice.

It is perhaps worth remembering that the independent review called for the immediate investment of £2.6 billion to address the existing crisis in children’s social care and a revolution in family help to prevent children entering care where possible. Yet more than a year later we seem little further forward on this reform and the Government are currently set to spend an additional £1 billion on children’s social care over 10 years.

Finally, the Government’s “test and review” approach to reforms is unlikely to lead to the level of investment and change that the system so desperately needs, so I conclude by urging the Government to reconsider the scope for further investment at the next spending review. We must not allow another eight years to pass before making the improvements that are so desperately needed. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the indomitable noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, a tireless campaigner for children and families—in particular for better mental health services for them. I acknowledge her diligence and that of the post-legislative scrutiny committee in taking on such a wide-ranging remit. Many of its conclusions chimed with the Children’s Commissioner’s Family Review, which reported at the same time, and The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

Early intervention was recognised by the committee as being of essential value to the plethora of policy areas which the Children and Families Act 2014 cuts across, including in private family law proceedings. It cited the value of early legal advice and mediation in reducing demands on the family justice system. Its report also highlighted the need for better join-up of different public sector systems and of these with the voluntary and private sectors.

I will focus on how and, in particular, where we could deliver early intervention solutions in family law that integrate previously siloed systems. We also need a more joined-up approach to mental health and to support parents whose children are not attending school for reasons related to anxiety, depression and very low well-being. The Chief Medical Officer’s recent guidance is that school non-attendance worsens these problems, but parents need help to overcome children’s reticence.

Starting with family law, help for families who are struggling before, during and after separation needs to be integrated with a comprehensive system of family support which has prevention and early intervention at its heart. Since the early days of the welfare state, its Labour Party architects acknowledged that free healthcare and education would not realise their transformational potential without easily accessible help for parents struggling with a wide range of problems. The Second World War had a long tail of effect on families, particularly the emotional cost to children of high levels of divorce and separation from parents. These trends have continued: one-third of children now live in separated families, where there is frequently ongoing conflict between parents.

Welfare state architects’ call for family centres in the late 1940s was not then heeded, but it was repeated in the Children Act 1989 and by the Audit Commission in 1994. Sure Start children’s centres were an important development. However, provision did not move beyond children’s early years or help relationships between parents before, during and after separation. Like so many other promising policies, Sure Start needed to be evolved, and this was the aim of the family hubs movement. At this point, I declare my unremunerated interest as director and guarantor of the Family Hubs Network Ltd, a not-for-profit consultancy on family hubs. When we set up the network to support this movement, there were around 150 family hubs in England; around 480 have now registered with us. Family hubs are key sites where early intervention takes place so that families can overcome difficulties and build stronger relationships. Crucially, they also network buildings, state services and other organisations providing family support in an area. The family hub enables families with children aged from nought to 19 to access this integrated offer. Family hubs are now official government policy and are being rolled out across more than half of local authorities in England.

When family hubs were first articulated by my parliamentary adviser, Dr Callan, in the Centre for Social Justice’s 2007 Breakthrough Britain report, she highlighted the need for them to incorporate the work of family relationship centres. In Norway and Australia, these provide mediation and quasi-legal support away from courts. The CSJ was concerned that the sharp reduction in legal aid for private family law following the Carter review in 2006 would restrict access to justice, while acknowledging that high reliance on the courts was both very costly to the public purse and drove an adversarial rather than a solutions-based approach. The President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Andrew McFarlane, recently said that 38% of separating parents were using court processes to sort out disputes.

The Family Solutions Group, a private family law reform group, says that while

“families at risk of harm or abuse or who have particular challenges may need the family court; most other families need high quality, holistic and affordable support away from court”.

They should be steered towards the many state and other agencies who see the earliest signs that relationships between parents are becoming fraught. These include teachers, health visitors, GPs, advisors in citizens advice bureaux and possibly churches, but there needs to be a recognisable place where families can get that specialist help. This is where the family hubs model needs further development. Senior family court judges are keen to join up family courts with family hubs as part of the Government’s wider family law reform programme, which includes the Pathfinder pilots in the family courts in Dorset and North Wales.

The role of the family court would be to liaise with the hub for out-of-court solutions and support in individual cases, to triage for urgency, safeguarding issues or co-parenting and to ensure appropriate support during and at the conclusion of proceedings. The family hub would also identify urgent and safeguarding cases and provide legal help. The Family Solutions Group has described how family separation consultants could be based there to provide information and assessment meetings alongside mediators, alternative dispute resolution services and supervised child contact. Parents would have access to all the other help in family hubs, such as parenting support, debt counselling, substance misuse programmes and mental health services.

Former senior family judge, his honour Martin Dancey, drew up plans for a future family hub to be properly networked with the family court involved in the Pathfinder because, he said:

“While Pathfinder can operate without hubs, I see hubs as integral to optimal solutions for families.”

Our most senior professionals want integrated and accessible family support, but so too does the general public. Polling I commissioned before the summer found that 78% of the general public agree with the statement:

“Supporting families is not just about subsidising childcare or giving parents money, but providing a range of services, guidance and advice.”

For 56% of people, drop-in centres are perceived to be a main priority for any government family policy. The most important family support and parenting services are deemed to be those that are low or no cost, provide immediate support and are accessible in one place.

Returning to this report, in their response the Government said that their prioritising of early intervention is at the heart of their own plans for reform. So, will the Government develop model plans for family courts to work with family hubs in the way Judge Dancey describes? Early intervention would save much delay, heartache and significant costs. The message is loud and clear that siloed, disjointed working is not helpful to families. Again, what steps are the Government taking to encourage the DHSC and DfE to work jointly in family hubs, not just schools, to deliver children and young people’s tier 1 and 2 mental health support?

Anxiety and depression among young people are potent drivers of school absenteeism. Many parents feel powerless and at their wits’ end. They want to be part of the solution but need support and know-how so they can help their children re-engage with education. Through a pilot in the Bury St Edmunds Bridge family hub, professionals work with parents and young people in a trusted local church base to address the perceived and actual barriers to attending school regularly. We need to evaluate and build on such promising practice elsewhere: family courts and schools urgently need hubs to fulfil their game-changing potential to support families.

Parental separation, mental ill-health and school non-attendance are costing the state billions. Early intervention and more joined-up working require a paradigm shift towards better, more efficient and more fruitful ways of working, which will also be cheaper. Key reports commissioned by the Government, as well as this committee, keep saying this: we need action this day.

My Lords, for me it was a real pleasure and honour to sit on this committee. I learned a huge amount, not least because I had effectively been away from the House for a period of five years, and this was my first committee back. However, the pleasure was largely because of the brilliant chairing of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Enfield, who, with a diplomatic skill that many diplomats would envy, managed, with her charm and decisiveness, to get a, frankly, fairly disparate committee to quite easily agree to what is, in my view at least, an outstanding report which ought to guide the Government now and in the future. It is a massive report dealing with matters that, as we have just heard, touch directly on people’s lives and can take over their lives if we get it wrong.

I intend to speak about one issue alone, which is around family justice and how, in my view at least, the removal of legal aid for private law cases has, in itself and when taken with other steps that have been taken, had a pretty disastrous effect on our family law system, so that it now faces long queues, long waiting lists and too many litigants in person. It has made judges play roles they should not be playing: for example, administrative roles and roles to help out litigants when they are in person. That is not their job, and it has added greatly to the administrative burdens on family courts and those who administrate those courts.

The committee likely got just a little tired of hearing me bang on about this issue, but our unanimous recommendation in paragraph 141 is:

“We recommend that the Government urgently evaluate the impact of the removal of legal aid for most private family law cases, considering where reinstating legal aid could help improve the efficiency and quality of the family justice system”.

That view ought to carry some weight, coming as it does from an all-party committee that heard expert evidence and came to a collective view.

Paragraph 60 of the Government’s response is, to put it mildly, pretty disappointing. It just sets out that the Government reviewed the changes made by LASPO and published the post-implementation review in 2019, which, they say, is

“the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of LASPO on the civil and family legal aid system”.

I am sure it is, but that does not answer the point we made in our report.

The sad truth is that the Children and Families Act came into being under a pretty dark shadow from LASPO, which came into force less than a year before. LASPO changed the rules of the game. Before it, parties in private family law could obtain some legal aid or help to get that crucial early legal advice. After 1 February 2012, that came to a shuddering halt. There were supposed to be exceptions for domestic abuse, but the rules were so strict that that often did not happen. When the Children and Families Act came into force in March 2014, all the good intentions in that Act, and there are plenty of them, came up against this problem: the parties could no longer get that early piece of advice that might, and often did, sort out the issues so that court proceedings were unnecessary.

LASPO pressed hard for traditional mediation. Of course, the 2014 Act insisted on MIAMs, with only the claimant made a compulsory attendee. Mediation plummeted under LASPO, as the senior Ministry of Justice official admitted in his expert evidence. We heard evidence that many people are just not using MIAMs, even though they are bound to in law. As the report states at paragraph 130, the Government themselves stated that take-up had been “lower than anticipated”. Only 35% of those who were supposed to attend did so. There was much criticism of MIAMs during the course of our evidence.

There is nobody who does not support some attempt to settle cases without going to court, and various excellent methods are now employed as alternatives to traditional mediation, but what is urgently needed is a source of clear and impartial information on separation and some general legal advice. This is surely something that only the Government can ensure happens.

The almost certain outcome is that, by adopting such a scheme, public money would be saved and fewer cases would end up in court or in long lists never to be heard—or not to be heard for months. Also, the cases that went to court would have real issues for the court to rule on, rather than issues that really should not be anywhere near a court. The delays would be shortened and, as our report says in recommendation 25 in paragraph 141, the

“efficiency and quality of the family justice system”

would be improved.

There are examples galore in our report of expert witnesses making the points that I am trying to make so clumsily here today. For example, Dr Julie Doughty raised concern that the cuts to legal aid had just shifted costs to other parts of the court system. It is those working in the court service who have to deal with those cases; litigants in person understandably do not know how to conduct the case, taking more time than if they had some sort of advice. Professor Judith Masson said that

“there are cases going to court that lawyers would have headed off. With legal aid, a lawyer would have said, ‘No, it’s not worth taking this to court’ or ‘Try mediation’. That has been lost”.

There was no enthusiasm for and much opposition to the present system from our experts. However, the Government should perhaps take special note of the evidence of the present President of the Family Division and his predecessor—Sir Andrew McFarlane, who has already been referred to, and Sir James Munby. At paragraph 133, Lord Justice Munby said in evidence to us that

“one of the great disasters and one of the great mistakes by government in 2013 was identifying mediation as the non-court solution”.

He went on to say:

“Money properly spent at an early stage usually pays dividends later on”.

That is so obviously true, and it is why all of us are in favour of early intervention.

The Government have now concluded their consultation on the future of mediation and will no doubt announce their decision in due course. I urge them seriously to consider the committee’s proposals as the best way forward. There is a slightly depressing rumour going around that His Majesty’s Government may be rather attracted by what is called the compulsory mediation solution. Two recent articles, one in the Financial Times on 7 July and the other in the Independent on 14 July, point out the profession’s opposition to such a step. I do not want to embarrass him, as he is here today, but we are lucky in having in this House a Justice Minister who is open to debate and actually listens to suggestions. He met the chair and me shortly after the proceedings ended, which we were very grateful for. This week as well, we had a short conversation about these matters. He was an outstanding witness when he came before the committee. I have spoken to him already about this, and I am sure that he will follow Hansard after this debate.

In my view, the decision that the Government take on this matter is of considerable importance to the future of our whole family justice system. If they rely on traditional or compulsory mediation too much, the results will be very much as they have been in the past.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for securing this debate, and the whole Children and Families Act Committee for its work on this excellent report and for highlighting all the issues.

Our experiences of childhood and family life shape who we are and who we become. When children and families flourish, society flourishes. This is not a new understanding: in the little we hear of Jesus as a child, the gospel writer Luke highlights how he grew physically, socially, intellectually and spiritually. His childhood shaped his adult ministry.

The Children and Families Act was a remarkable piece of legislation, taking huge steps to improve the lives of children and their families. However, I regret that I have to agree with this report that the promising policy changes that the Act was intended to make have not been implemented as all of us had hoped. This failure of implementation illustrates the vital need for post-legislative scrutiny. Eight years is too long to wait for post-legislative scrutiny of any Act, but the failure to produce scrutiny of the implementation of an Act directly impacting the lives of children has particularly striking consequences.

Eight years is a significant proportion of one’s childhood, and the experience of a child in those formative years has a lifelong impact. Indeed, all the research shows that the first 1,000 days are utterly critical for a child’s lifelong chances. Eight years is almost exactly three such generations of children. We must ensure that the policies we debate in this House are not simply words and fantastical ideals but become reality. I therefore support the recommendation from the committee that the Government produce a detailed plan for post-legislative scrutiny when an Act reaches Royal Assent. I ask the Minister why the government response disagreed.

As a co-chair of the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households, I cannot speak in this debate without mentioning the report of the commission’s findings, published earlier this year, entitled Love Matters. The members of the commission spent two years meeting and listening to children, young people and adults and came to the main conclusion that loving relationships are crucial to human flourishing and must be supported. However, when loving relationships break down and a couple decide to separate, the priority must become minimising harm, particularly to any children involved. Parental conflict and the process of separation can have a long-term detrimental impact on a child. It impacts their schoolwork, their friendships, their mental health and their overall well-being. Children must be prioritised throughout the separation and any court proceedings.

The report welcomes the more recent introduction of the no-fault divorce policy under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act allowing parents to separate from one other without one party being blamed. This policy better serves the interests of children through reducing hostility and minimising the conflict between parents. Nevertheless, more changes in this area are required. The current delays within the family justice system are far too long. Few private law cases adhere to the 26-week limit for completing proceedings, and are instead—the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, mentioned this—averaging 46 weeks to reach closure. I understand that in public cases, it is even longer. Children need stability and consistency, and delayed court proceedings are detrimental to this. There is no simple solution, of course, but I again echo the recommendations that the committee present in its report. There is a need for greater resourcing of the family courts and a detailed plan from the Government with the steps that they are going to take to address these delays.

For children to be at the heart of the family courts, they must of course be involved in the proceedings. Children need to be given the opportunity to speak, or express themselves in other ways when words are difficult. They need to be listened to and to be made aware of any decisions impacting them. There are, of course, plenty of examples of good practice already, but it is just not consistent enough. Children have a greater understanding of their situations than we tend to think, and they are often the ones best placed to propose and make decisions which put their interests truly first. Listening to children within the courts can actually also speed up proceedings, further minimising delays.

I urge the Government to ensure that more advice and signposting for support are available for those going through family court proceedings. An easily accessible website that provides information and advice should be made available to parents, alongside the Separated Parents Information Programme being made freely available at the beginning of the 20-week waiting period before the start of divorce proceedings. This would enable parents to better understand how to better prioritise the needs of their children while navigating the family justice system.

I note here that yesterday I had the privilege, with the co-chair of the Archbishops’ commission, of meeting some of those involved with family justice system policy in the MoJ. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, who is here, for enabling that to happen. I was encouraged by their willingness to discuss these issues and co-operate in finding solutions. Here I will offer a word of comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Bach: from those conversations yesterday I got no hint that any firm decision on mediation had been made, and I believe the officials were being very open and honest with us.

I also concur with the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, that early support for families is utterly essential. If widely available, I believe the demands on the courts would actually be reduced and more families helped to move through their challenges healthily.

I want to take a moment to highlight the work of the Parents Promise, an initiative encouraging parents to make a positive commitment to putting the needs of their child first in the event of a separation or divorce. It has a particular HR initiative, which some of the UK’s major companies have already begun to sign up to. It calls for businesses to better support their employees through recognising separation as a “life event”, thereby allowing them access to more flexible working and pointing them towards counselling and support services. This initiative encourages parents going through separation to do so in a more compassionate and child-focused way. Can the Minister say whether the Government intend to support such an initiative as the Parents Promise?

As children and families are at the foundation of our society, it is vital that they are at the foundation of our policies. The introduction of the family test in 2014 was a step in that direction, but it is time for it to be seriously reviewed. For the test to be most effective, there must be transparency. I therefore ask the Minister: when will the Government introduce a requirement for each department to complete and publish their assessments under the family test?

However, the family test alone does not go far enough to ensure that children and families truly are at the heart of all policies. As highlighted in the report, the Children’s Commissioner does a very valuable job; indeed, that is true of the Children’s Commissioners in each nation. However, they are not enough on their own. I strongly believe that a Cabinet-level position is needed, responsible for examining all departmental policies to ensure that they do not hinder the flourishing of children and families. I highlight that the Treasury is most in need of this. Regular change of responsibility at a junior Minister level shows little commitment and lack of serious consideration for the impact that legislation and policy have on the lives of children. The same is true for Cabinet-level positions. For effective and lasting positive change to be made, consistent leadership, as well as adequate funding, is required. It is time that the revolving door of Ministers comes to a stop, that implementing policies is taken seriously, and that children and families are put at the heart and foundation of the decisions we make.

To conclude, Jesus was very sharp with his listeners when it came to the treatment of children. They are to be treated as those to whom God’s kingdom belongs. They are to be kept from harm. Healthy families are critical to the well-being of children. So, when we have good legislation that helps to enact this, it is vital that we uphold and use it rather than fail to do so.

My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interest as a non-executive board member at Ofsted. I recused myself as appropriate from the committee when those issues came up.

I warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for her characteristically thoughtful and comprehensive speech. As others have said, it very much reflected her chairmanship of the committee, on which I was privileged to serve. She is one of the most fair-minded Members of your Lordships’ House; I have never once seen her tempted by political point-scoring, but that should not lull anyone into thinking, as we have seen, that she will not fight hard for her chosen causes. Her commitment to the welfare of children knows no bounds and she brings great expertise from her wider career. I also thank the team who supported the committee and, in particular, a lot of the witnesses who came to see us, some of whom were very vulnerable and had experienced trauma. They were very brave and generous in what they shared with us, which was hugely helpful.

Although our report pulled no punches in holding departments to account, I often stressed to the committee that we should not underestimate the original initiative taken by the coalition Government back in 2014 with the passing of the Act. Although I worked in a different area during my time as a No. 10 adviser, there was a collective sense across that Government of the coalition partners’ priorities. Life chances were up there in lights. Anyone who has worked at or near the centre of government, including probably most people in this Room, knows that central political will is the only way that priorities are felt across Whitehall.

I regret as much as anyone else the subsequent political instability and Whitehall churn that has, I have no doubt, resulted in patchy implementation and not good enough measurement of outcomes. That is entirely fair. However, we should recognise that the intentions were right. I think this Prime Minister and this Minister in particular are deeply committed to ensuring the best outcomes for the most vulnerable children and their families. We have had great stability with my noble friend Lady Barran, who has bravely held the fort—when I was speaking last summer, things were not great.

I am being a bit flippant but there is a serious point around responsibility. I accept that politics is politics and we all do it, but when you talk to children and young people about how the system works and where the levers are on what government can deliver, it is irresponsible to overstate failure. We can be robust about failure, but we must accept that there is will and good people working on these issues and that some progress has been made, which I will come to.

For once, the title of the Act is admirably simple: the Children and Families Act. It has often struck me how often in politics we talk about children with very little reference to families or parents. It is understandable that we devote much of our time to discussing, for example, curriculum content, online harms or, in the case of a Private Member’s Bill that I sponsored, Botox and body image, but too often as policymakers we all forget the most important thing in the world for a child: who is the person, or people, who looks after them? Are they kind to them or do they harm them? Are they safe or dangerous?

I am glad that the Government have spelled this out in Stable Homes, Built on Love and that, for example, kinship care is at last recognised. That was an astonishing omission from the original Act. I know the Minister will underline the importance of the pilot schemes and taking time to get the strategy right, but I add my voice to the calls for pace. I go back to my opening point—when political will is there, Governments can cut through complexities and deliver.

Looking more generally at adoption, the committee observed that, in England, between 2,500 and 3,000 children are adopted from care each year—about 3% of the total care population. Most of these children, some 76%, first became looked after because of parental abuse or neglect. Adoption is the most stable of all placement types: approximately 3% of those adopted return to care over a 12-year period. It thus provides a family life for most children. However, the effects of children’s pre-adoption adversities and maltreatment can be long lasting, and support for these young people and their families might be needed throughout the lifespan.

It is one thing to see the statistics but, like many others here I am sure, I had not fully appreciated the breadth and depth of support that many adopted children and their families need until I started to see it directly when friends adopted. Clearly, I am not going to share specific private stories as that would be inappropriate, but I have no hesitation in arguing that, where difficult funding decisions have to be taken, expert support for children who have experienced trauma has to be at the top of the priority list.

Across the parts of the Act on which the committee focused, two worrying themes emerged. One was crisis, which others have alluded to. Why is it the case that too many children and families cannot access support until things have escalated, whether that be into mental health crises, which I will talk about, or relationship breakdown? The second was the voice of the child. Too often it is lost. We heard this when it came to court proceedings for separating parents and made recommendations accordingly; others have focused on those so I will not run through them.

Although this Act was well intentioned and necessarily had to deal with the reality of separation, I do not believe that, as a society, we have done enough to address the causes of family breakdown. As legislators, we of course have to use parliamentary time to deal with the reality of divorce and make sure that the law works as effectively as possible. However, as I said during the passage of the divorce Bill, I believe that all those in a position of leadership—including, of course, the Church—should talk more about families sticking together wherever possible. The Minister will be pleased to know that I am not asking her to become the nation’s marriage guidance counsellor—she has a lot on her plate—but, as my noble friend Lord Farmer powerfully said, family hubs can play a role in relationship support at pressure points for families.

I hesitated about the next section of my speech, because I thought that people would say, “You’re saying you should stick together if you’re being abused or desperately unhappy”. Of course I am not saying that, but we have national conversations about all sorts of issues—identity, beliefs, Brexit—but we shy away from conversations about, for example, the reality of marriage once the honeymoon is over, the huge responsibility involved in bringing up children and the fact that individuals have responsibilities for others beyond themselves.

I turn to mental health, which was not included within the Bill but the evidence the committee took was so powerful across nearly all areas of the inquiry that we felt we had a duty to include it as a significant part of the report. We took evidence from experts, and from children and their parents or carers. We were careful to consider the danger of medicalising normal reactions to difficult experiences—somebody mentioned the Chief Medical Officer, who talked about cases of mild anxiety and the importance of being in school—but, for more severe cases, the impact of lockdown in particular was stark.

Increased prevalence of mental ill-health has put strain on services. Between April and June 2021, 190,271 under-18s were referred to children and young people’s mental health services. This compares with 81,170 in the same period in 2020. Responses to our online survey included:

“Appalling. We’ve been waiting for CAMHS for 9 months so far, and no indication how much longer”,


“My teenage son attempted suicide THREE times CAHMS did not help”.

Al Coates, the founder of the Adoption and Fostering Podcast and an adoptive parent, told us:

“I have a friend whose child made a viable attempt at suicide. They were put on an emergency referral to CAMHS—six months. That is an emergency referral”.

We heard that there are long waiting lists for post-adoption trauma support and that post-adoption teams are asking untrained school counsellors to do life story work with children, which they do not feel qualified to do. Looked-after children are four times more likely to experience mental health issues than their peers.

I and others have brought this issue to the Minister many times before. I am willing to acknowledge that the Government have recognised the scale of the problem and supported initiatives such as counsellors in schools, but my concern is whether the strategy is tightly focused enough and adequately resourced. Perhaps the Minister could set out for us—in writing, if there is not time today—how she sees the pathway working for children and young people. I acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all approach but there should be clarity for parents and carers on who to go to at different points in a mental health journey, according to severity, and assurance that the provision will be adequate when they get there.

I just have time to make a few points on flexible working. We debated at length how far we wanted to go on this, to strike the right balance between the needs of employers, and the desire among many to address gender imbalances in the workplace, and domestic duties, which has been a topical issue in my household for 13 years since my first daughter was born. My view is that parental leave is very generous in comparison with many other countries, but it was right to set an ambition for paternity leave. I also put on record again my thanks to the Government, who supported the Private Member’s Bill for additional leave for parents whose children are in neonatal care. We have to be nimble on this and recognise where the need is greatest.

In conclusion, it was an absolute pleasure to serve on this committee. I end by praising the resilience of the children and young people we heard from, and many more around the country from whom we did not hear. They are the leaders of tomorrow, and we must give them the chance to get there.

My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Tyler for her inclusive chairing of this Select Committee. She acted at all times with complete professionalism, anxious to understand, engage and find solutions. My colleagues on the Select Committee and our advisers were equally thorough in wanting to shine a light on the issues and see what solutions could be found. It has been interesting listening to the valuable contributions made by colleagues.

Three themes have come out. Obviously, the first is early intervention. It makes sense in life that if you deal with a problem early, it is sorted; if you leave it and do not intervene at an early stage, the problem gets harder and harder to deal with. Secondly, we recognise—as I am sure the Government do—the need to have post-legislative scrutiny. Thirdly, the voice of the child came out in what we said, as mentioned by a number of colleagues. I was taken by what the noble Baroness, Lady Wyld, said about the fact that children know and understand, and we should listen to them.

My noble friend Lady Tyler started by making the point that mental health was missing. We dealt with that issue thoroughly. She made the point about special educational needs, which I will come back to in a moment. I had forgotten the huge amount of consultation that took place with all sorts of stakeholders, which was very important.

There have indeed been seven Children’s Ministers, but the noble Lord, Lord Nash, the Minister here who started all this off, was with us for quite some time. It was thanks to him that we got this Act together. It is also right that our current Minister has been with us for quite a while now. It shows that when people stay, working arrangements are much better.

I was really interested in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, about being more joined up. He is absolutely right that with public and private, and local and central government, when you are joined up you can succeed more speedily. I have two regrets from the coalition period—I will not tell noble Lords what one of them was, but the other was certainly the decision to discontinue Sure Start centres. There was a lack of funding for local government, which was a huge mistake. Those centres gave parents the opportunity not just to help their children but to understand issues such as financial management and to get information about jobs that might be available. I was also really interested in the noble Lord’s points about family hubs. Similarly, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made a point about family justice—an area I know little about, which I think I made clear in Select Committee, but I recognise the importance of getting family justice right. It requires resources to be provided.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham rightly made the point that the Children and Families Act 2014 was a huge piece of legislation that had potential. As we have probably all suggested, that potential was never really met. Children need stability and consistency. I come to the first point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wyld, about the coalition Government and that Act, because I think that we are being a bit unkind to the Act, if I may say so. She also talked about adoption.

We did not examine the whole Act in detail; instead, we focused on specific policy areas that we felt would benefit from further examination. In all honesty, I gained more knowledge and understanding of many issues than I was able to contribute. As a former head teacher of a very large primary school, with 500-plus pupils and a 100-place nursery, I had particular expertise in special educational needs but limited expertise in the other issues that we grappled with. I was actively involved with the Children and Families Bill in 2014, when it went through under the stewardship of the noble Lord, Lord Nash. I remember that, at the end of Third Reading a few months later, all the Members had worked very closely together and it almost felt like a Select Committee; we met in this Room and actually celebrated that piece of legislation. We felt at the time that it was a piece of landmark legislation and the start of real changes for family.

I was interested to understand the issues that schools now face with special educational needs. The Bill replaced statements with education, health and care plans. Doing so gave us an opportunity to understand that we needed to be more holistic and bring education, health and social care together, so the EHC plans would be a blueprint for the needs of a child, and early intervention would be so important. Parents would have the right to appeal against any decision not to put a child on a plan; local authorities would have to publish facilities, resources and opportunities that were available. While children have benefited from the SENCO legislation, for many it has become an all too obvious challenge, with long delays before children are assessed for a plan, causing needless anxiety and stress to parents. Millions of pounds have needlessly been spent on the appeals mechanism, yet 90% of the appeals have been agreed. Why are we doing this? Why are we spending so much time going to court when the court upholds the appeal and the money is lost?

The Bill was brought in at a time when resources were limited, particularly for local authorities. It is little wonder that some LEAs delay as a way to conserve their stretched resources. The Select Committee was right to conclude that the Act struggled to achieve its goals, given the sheer breadth of areas covered and lack of due concern to implementation. The committee was right to conclude that lessons should have been learned about post-legislative scrutiny; its views about mental health were so important. Children and young people with poor mental health face long waiting lists for treatment while their mental health continues to decline, allowing waiting lists to grow to unsustainable levels. In my view, the Bill was a missed opportunity not to say that some important legislation was not achieved, benefiting the lives of children and families alike.

The Bill was a missed opportunity, but there are things in it that we should still be proud of—I have mentioned the education, health and care plans—but let us think of some of the other things that were included. It agreed on the statutory role of the Children’s Commissioner for England to promote and protect the rights of children or the rights to shared parental leave and shared parental pay.

It was right to bring about EHSC plans, but wrong to dilute other special educational needs support in schools. Deleting school action and school action plan was almost a signal to say to schools, “You do not need to do special educational needs work, because we have put those children on a plan”, and that has happened increasingly in schools. On the issues of looked-after children, fostering, post-adoption support, kinship care, family justice, employment rights and race and ethnicity in adoption, I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the report’s proposals. I know that the Minister genuinely cares about children and families and, despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, I hope she will look again at the proposals in the report and try to persuade her colleagues of the error, maybe, of their ways.

Yesterday, I was chairing Liverpool City Council’s education scrutiny panel—a first for me. We were looking at paths into work for young people and at apprenticeships. We had a breakdown of the numbers of disadvantaged young people. I suddenly realised, thanks to the work of this Select Committee, that there was no mention of children in care. I immediately said, “Where are the figures for looked-after children? After all, the local authority is the corporate parent”. There were blushes from officers and they said “Yes, you are right. We will include those figures in our documentation”. That would not have happened had I not been on the Select Committee and understood the importance of corporate parentship and making sure that we look at everything we can do to help those looked-after children. I thoroughly appreciated the work of the Select Committee, and I once again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for her amazing chairing, as well as other colleagues.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA, as noted in the register. We are here today as a result of the House of Lords Children and Families Act 2014 Committee, as has been mentioned throughout the debate, and the launching of its post-legislative scrutiny inquiry on 9 March 2022. The introduction of the Act in 2014 was to make those substantial and wide-ranging changes that all Peers have noted in the debate today. It was about reforming services for vulnerable children, by giving them greater protection, paying special attention to those with additional needs, and also helping children, parents and the family as a whole.

Many of the recommendations of the 2010 family justice review were implemented by the CFA and were designed to improve child welfare and make court processes more effective and, crucially, quicker than they were before. The importance of the legal framework was cogently outlined by my noble friend Lord Bach. It further extended the rights to a personal budget for the support of children, young people and families. Local authorities—I have been a corporate parent and I know how important that is—have to involve families and children in discussions and decisions relating to their care and education. It was about providing impartial advice, support and mediation.

In the Act, the Children’s Commissioner’s role was increased from simply representing the views and interests of children to focusing on,

“promoting and protecting the rights of children”.

It was so reassuring to see Dame Rachel de Souza, the current commissioner for England, speak out so persuasively and compellingly in the media in recent days when she commented on the current crisis affecting our children and young people at the start of the new academic year and the discovery about school buildings. She said,

“After years of disruption for children and young people, what they need most is stability and getting back to normal … Everything must now be done to ensure the impact on children’s learning is minimised. And it is particularly important that everyone working with children prioritises those who are vulnerable and those with additional needs”.

Those are very clear words.

The report under discussion today, published on 6 December 2022, contained recommendations across several policy areas. Strikingly, the committee said that the CFA

“has ultimately failed in meaningfully improving the lives of children and young people”.

It attributed this failure to several things, including insufficient data collection, implementation and, as many noble Lords mentioned, scrutiny of the Act. For example, on adoption, there was a lack of support and inconsistent approaches for the early permanence placements created by the Act, and a lack of action on issues with ethnic minority adoptions. The committee recommended expanding the current narrow scope and complex application process.

The CFA does not contain any provisions on kinship care, despite it being the most stable option for children in care. I do not know what we would have done without grandparents, aunties and uncles when we looked to place children in Newport. The lack of provision for kinship care has been raised again in recent debates on the Government’s new children’s social care strategy.

There is a lack of data on the success of the introduction of parental involvement presumption in the CFA. In 2020, the Government promised a review on its success, but the findings are yet to be published.

On the introduction of rights to shared parental leave and pay, in 2018 the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee proposed that shared parental leave should be replaced with a right to 12 weeks’ parental leave. The CFA committee said that the Government should publish an assessment of implementing such a policy. Labour has committed to urgently review the shared parental leave system and extend statutory maternity and paternity leave as part of its new deal for working people. The committee further recommended that self-employed partners should be given the right to statutory shared parental pay like directly employed partners, something I believe the Government do not currently support.

The committee further noted that kinship carers have no legal right to paid time off. However, the Government have acknowledged the need to explore ways of better supporting kinship carers. This is to be welcomed.

Many Peers have mentioned that children’s mental health was not directly covered in the Act, but the committee rightly described it as a crisis and a threat to the Act’s overall success. Labour has committed to ensuring that there are mental health professionals in every school and mental health hubs in every community, and will guarantee mental health treatment within a month for all who need it. The committee further recommended that the Government continue to heed the advice of the Children’s Commissioner and consider how they can better represent the voice of children at senior levels of Government—a most wise recommendation.

Last year, the Government set out plans to reform children’s social care. Earlier this year, they undertook a consultation on reforms to children’s social care, which closed in May but has yet to be published. The strategy has been broadly welcomed, but has been accused of taking a piecemeal approach rather than a wholesale reform of what is a broken system.

I have outlined what was hoped for in 2014 when the Act came into force, and I note the wholesale criticisms by the committee of the Act’s implementation. I shall conclude, as some of my points have already been covered and I am a firm believer in not repeating what has already been said, but I have a number of questions to put to the Minister. I do not expect a full reply to every question, but I would be most grateful if she would address the clear challenges that I pose and reply in writing.

The Government have said they will respond to the consultation on the children’s social care strategy this month. Can the Minister confirm whether this is still the plan? Do the Government believe that the announcements made so far on the new strategy will lead to the current dire situation improving? Some 43% of children’s service departments are rated as inadequate.

As almost all Peers have already mentioned, many of the issues with the Act outlined in the report come from a lack of post-legislative scrutiny, impact assessments or data collection, leaving the Government flying blind. How will they ensure that the same mistakes are not made when implementing the new strategy?

It is clear from the report and the reception surrounding the announcement of the new government strategy that kinship care has been greatly neglected. Do the Government believe that providing £50 for training and support for every child in kinship care will make a difference? The Government have said that a kinship care strategy will be published by the end of 2023. Is this still the case? Finally, are the children’s social care national frameworks still on course to be published by the end of this year?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, for calling this debate, and all members of the committee who have spoken today. We now need urgent action from the Government to ensure that what was a positive piece of legislation is no longer allowed to drift from pillar to post, trying to do what it set out to do: to improve the lives of our children and young people. There can be no more important challenge.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, on securing this important debate on the Children and Families Act 2014. I also thank all your Lordships who carried out post-legislative scrutiny of the Act last year and all who contributed to the debate today. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness and her work over many years to improve the outcomes for children who access children’s social care and the family courts. I also very much thank my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, who has reflected his commitment to this issue by being here in person to listen to your Lordships. To those noble Lords who are disappointed to get a Minister from the Department for Education, I say: you have two for the price of one.

As your Lordships have set out today, the Act took forward a range of commitments to improve services for vulnerable children and families. As we have heard in this afternoon’s short debate, it sought to support: children in the adoption and care systems; those affected by decisions of the family courts; those with special educational needs and disabilities; and families with their home and work life. Although those sound like solid policy objectives, all your Lordships brought to the debate the human issues and the absolute imperative to try to improve our response for children who do not have the benefits of stability and love as they start their lives.

With that in mind, I want to touch on the Government’s plans to reform children’s social care, which many of your Lordships raised. As the Committee is aware, earlier this year, in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and two other key reviews, the Government published an implementation strategy titled Stable Homes, Built on Love, which sets out how we plan to reform children’s social care. It sets out how we will help families overcome some of the challenges they face, keep our children safe, and make sure that children in care also have stable and loving homes and opportunities to fulfil their potential in their lives. I am glad that my noble friend Lady Wyld was brave enough to leave the section in her speech where she talked about the importance of understanding our responsibility in relation to our children and the importance of our supporting families to stay together within their limitations that she rightly raised.

Before I turn to the recommendations and the points your Lordships raised, there were a number of questions about whether we are confident that the approach we are taking to the reform of children’s social care will really deliver, in particular the test and review approach, which the right reverend Prelate raised and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, questioned. She raised the issue of funding for our reforms. Members of the post-legislative scrutiny committee understand better than most just how complicated it is to get this right on the ground. We believe that getting a balance between testing robustly and going as fast as we can—without going too fast—is the right approach. I would be happy to meet the noble Baroness again to talk about the unique child identifier; we met earlier but I am more than happy to meet with her again.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked about what progress we have made on the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision improvement plan—less simply named than the elegant Children and Families Act—since March 2023. We have secured funding since then to design and test the proposals set out in the improvement plan and have identified local authorities in every region that will test many of the measures. They will start their work this autumn.

This ties into some of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, in particular on the national frameworks being ready by the end of the year. We are still confident about that. We will respond this month to the consultation she referred to. I hope she will acknowledge the progress the Government have made on local authorities judged inadequate in relation to children’s social care. I share her deep unease at the thought of what that looks like on the ground and feels like for vulnerable children in receipt of services, but I hope she acknowledges that our strategy to date is already working. We very much believe that this new approach will also build on it. Finally, we will publish on kinship care by year end. If I have not covered any of her points, I am happy to follow up in writing.

I will update on progress against the committee’s recommendations. I heard disappointment from a number of your Lordships that there was no earlier post-legislative scrutiny of the Act. The Government found the recommendations made by the committee and the depth of the work it carried out extremely helpful, but I will move on to some of the practical issues for the future that noble Lords raised.

We published our adoption strategy in July 2021 and in March 2022 we announced that we would invest £160 million over the next three years to deliver it, including £5 million to improve the way in which we match children with families.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, quite rightly raised the issue of improving the response for children from ethnic-minority backgrounds and asked how we are addressing racial disparities in the adoption system. I am pleased to inform the Committee that the number of minority-ethnic adopters has risen from 400 in 2020 to 698 in 2023 as part of our recruitment campaign, You Can Adopt.

We are also working with regional adoption agency leaders, who have made a commitment to develop an overarching strategy to address equality and diversity issues. Statistics on ethnic-minority children waiting for adoption are published quarterly, and the latest figures show an average of 10 months from the court granting a placement order. The noble Baroness is right to raise the issue until we can bring that delay down substantially.

Alongside that, since 2015 we have made £300 million available through the adoption support fund for therapeutic services for over 44,000 children, young people and their families. My noble friend Lady Wyld stressed quite rightly the importance of that mental health support and the unpredictability about how long one might need it for.

On the family courts and family justice, it is a real priority for the Government to address the delays in the family courts, which many of your Lordships mentioned. My department has recently invested an additional £10 million to test new initiatives to try to speed up the process. I know that colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are convening a conference with local family justice boards so that they can look together at how we tackle delays in the family courts.

The committee was very clear about the importance of data sharing and data collection—the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, very much stressed that point. My department has invested more than £2.2 million to improve family justice pre-proceedings practice and data collection. I know that the Ministry of Justice is also investing in improved data collection so that we can give local family justice boards not just their own data but data from others so that they can compare, understand and improve their performance relative to others.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, was very eloquent on the issue of private family law disputes and some of the problems that we and, more importantly, families and children are facing in that area. In March, the Ministry of Justice published a consultation so that we could support the earlier resolution of private law family disputes. The word “early” came up in many of your Lordships’ remarks. As the right reverend Prelate touched on, we are considering our response, particularly in relation to mediation, and the whole question of early legal advice is also under consideration.

I thank my noble friend Lord Farmer for his work on family hubs, his insights into the need for early legal advice and his explanation of the Norwegian and Australian approaches. He also raised the important issue of joint work between the family courts and family hubs and between my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy and me. I will make sure that we can follow up that conversation, if that would be helpful to my noble friend.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Tyler and Lady Wilcox, raised the critical issues around presumption of parental involvement. We will review that before the end of the year.

My noble friend Lady Wyld raised the issues of strengthening and enhancing the voice of children during proceedings. This is a core aim of a new approach to applications for child arrangement orders and other private family law proceedings. Your Lordships already referred to the pilots running in Dorset and north Wales and we really want to draw on this experience more widely. Of course, although the pilot will not be reviewed until January 2025, we want to learn as we go along and emphasise a non-adversarial approach.

We absolutely agree that better information for parents is needed and that we need better connectivity between all parts of the family justice system.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, raised the important issue of kinship care. As I said earlier, we will be publishing our kinship care strategy by the end of 2023. We have already made progress, working with the charity Kinship to deliver high-quality support across England. Like the noble Baroness opposite, we absolutely recognise—and I express our gratitude to—those in families who support other family members. We want kinship carers to get the financial help that they are entitled to. That is why we have extended the adoption support fund to cover children under special guardianship and child arrangement orders. As the noble Baroness mentioned, the Ministry of Justice extended legal aid entitlements to prospective guardians making applications for special guardianship orders in private family law proceedings. We are also committed to establishing a training and support offer for all kinship carers and have committed £45 million to deliver the Families First for Children pathfinder and family network pilots, which will promote the use of family group decision-making, as well as test the impact of family network support packages.

My noble friends Lady Wyld and Lord Farmer raised important issues, as did other noble Lords, in relation to mental health support for children, particularly the join-up between different government departments. The Department for Education is working with health partners across government, including, obviously, the Department for Health and Social Care, but also NHS England, to consider how we can better work together to deliver social care and health services for children with the most complex needs. In Stable Homes, Built on Love, one of our six key missions for care leavers in particular was that, by 2027, we would reduce the disparities in the long-term mental and physical outcomes of care-experienced people and the activity to support that. I will happily write to my noble friend Lady Wyld to set out the pathway.

I always feel that something happens with the clock whenever I stand up to speak. If I may, on some of the comments in relation to employment rights, I will, with my noble friend’s permission, set out some of the points in writing rather than overrun even more than I already have.

There are clearly areas where we are taking forward recommendations from the committee. There are others where we absolutely share the committee’s aspirations in relation to vulnerable children, the family justice system and support for families, including those with children who have special education needs, but where our strategy and approach are slightly different from what the committee recommended. Our aspiration is very much the same.

I thank the noble Baroness and all noble Lords for contributing to this important debate and for the valuable scrutiny that they brought to the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Wyld said, our commitment to vulnerable children happily transcends party-political interests. I know that I can speak both for myself and my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy in saying that we look forward to working across the House on these important issues.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, for that response. I personally found it extremely helpful and very informative, and I very much appreciated the warm words, which I know were sincerely meant, about the in-depth work that the committee has undertaken, because it does make it feel that that work was worthwhile, so thank you very much for that. I also acknowledge the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, which I very much appreciate. It is a really visible demonstration to me of the joined-up nature of the Government on this issue and I thank him for attending.

It has been a really excellent debate; it has really demonstrated the breadth and complexity of this issue, and its importance, but also the huge expertise, knowledge and commitment that we have in this House. I was hugely lucky to work with the colleagues I did on the Select Committee, bringing not just their knowledge but their passion and commitment to this area. We had excellent contributions, which I am not going to try to summarise, in the key areas of adoption and kinship care, how the family courts work, special educational needs and disabilities and employment law. I will say one point only, if I may, about the family courts. I feel very strongly that the voice of the child must be at the heart of the family courts. I am hoping that is something we can continue to work on.

We heard some excellent contributions about the committee’s decision to highlight some very important cross-cutting themes. We heard about mental health, about the need early intervention and the need for really important information collection and sharing—all incredibly important. We heard about one or two more general issues, which was very interesting: the importance of couple relationships, relationship breakdown and the role of family hubs. This is all the broader context within which this report was operating.

I agree that it is important to put on record that I agree that the intentions of the Act were very good. I think the legislative framework was the right one. I called it a landmark piece of legislation, and I meant that. Of course, it is right to acknowledge the things that have happened as a result of it, but I think it is inevitable that when we have post-legislative scrutiny, we look at the things that have not happened—hence the focus we had.

Someone said a very good thing: where you get both political will and pace, the world can change and things can happen. I just hope from this debate that that is what is going to happen—that we are going to unleash some real momentum and change in this area. I know that all noble Lords in this Room would like to be part of that, and I hope we can have further debates on some of these key issues that I have just mentioned.

My final point is to return to the issue about the process of post-legislative scrutiny and why I think it is so important. I managed to have a quick word with the Senior Deputy Speaker earlier and I intend to write to the powers that be—the Leader of the House, the Lord Speaker, and the Senior Deputy Speaker—saying why I feel it is so important that post-legislative scrutiny is really taken seriously and there is so much more we can do, both in Parliament and in government.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.33 pm.