David Batty plots the development of child welfare policy over a century of legislation
Wednesday May 18, 2005
The first act of parliament for the prevention of cruelty to children, commonly known as the "children's charter" was passed. This enabled the state to intervene, for the first time, in relations between parents and children. Police could arrest anyone found ill-treating a child, and enter a home if a child was thought to be in danger. The act included guidelines on the employment of children and outlawed begging.
The act was amended and extended. It allowed children to give evidence in court, mental cruelty was recognised and it became an offence to deny a sick child medical attention.
The Children's Act 1908 established juvenile courts and introduced the registration of foster parents. The Punishment of Incest Act made sexual abuse within families a matter for state jurisdiction rather than intervention by the clergy.
The Children and Young Persons Act 1932 broadened the powers of juvenile courts and introduced supervision orders for children at risk. The following year, a further act brought together all existing child protection law into a single piece of legislation.
The Children Act 1948 established a children's committee and a children's officer in each local authority. It followed the creation of the parliamentary care of children committee in 1945 following the death of 13-year-old Dennis O'Neill at the hands of his foster parents.
Under the 1968 Social Work (Scotland) Act, local authority social work depart-ments replaced children, welfare, health and probation committees. Local authorities also took over responsibility for investigating child abuse.
Under the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970, councils' social work services and social care provisions, including those for children, were amalgamated into social services departments.
The inquiry into the death of Maria Cowell at the hands of her stepfather highlighted a serious lack of coordination among services responsible for child welfare. Its report led to the development of area child protection committees (ACPCs) in England and Wales, which coordinate local efforts to safeguard children at risk.
The Children Act 1989 gave every child the right to protection from abuse and exploitation and the right to inquiries to safeguard their welfare. Its central tenet was that children are usually best looked after within their family. The act came into force in England and Wales in 1991 and - with some differences - in Northern Ireland in 1996.
Staff guidance on working together under the Children Act required ACPCs to conduct an investigation to establish whether child protection procedures were followed when child abuse is suspected or confirmed to be the cause of a child's death. Updated in 1999.
The Children (Scotland) Act incorporated the three key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish law: protection from discrimination, ensuring that child welfare is a primary concern and listening to children's views.
The Protection of Children Act 1999 was passed, aiming to prevent paedophiles from working with children. It requires childcare organisations in England and Wales to inform the Department of Health about anyone known to them who is suspected of harming children or putting them at risk. A similar act was passed in Scotland in 2003.
Then Scottish education minister Jack McConnell (below) ordered a review of child protection in Scotland following the inquiry into the murder of three-year-old Kennedy McFarlane. An audit published the following year found that half of all children at risk of abuse and neglect in the country fail to receive adequate protection. Two years later, the Scottish executive published a children's charter, setting out how carers and professionals should protect and respect their rights.
In January, Lord Laming published his report into the death of child abuse victim Victoria Climbié, which found that health, police and social services missed 12 opportunities to save her. Margaret Hodge is appointed the first children's minister in June. In September, a government green paper, Every Child Matters, proposed an electronic tracking system for England's children; 150 children's trusts to be set up by 2006, amalgamating health, education and social services; a children's director to oversee local services; statutory local safeguarding children boards to replace ACPCs; and a children's commissioner for England.
The Children Act 2004, which pushes forward the main proposals of the green paper - electronic children's files; children's directors; and a children's commissioner - is passed by parliament. But it allows local authorities more flexibility in organising their children's services, with the amalgamation of education and social services no longer mandatory. Councils are also given another two years to set up children's trusts.
Professor Al Aynsley Green is appointed as England's first children's commissioner. Former Home Office minister Beverley Hughes replaces Margaret Hodge as minister for children. Former education secretary Estelle Morris is appointed to oversee the government's reform of the children's services workforce.