'Mix and match' parental leave plan

First published in Business Daily

THE Government is to unveil plans to allow parents to choose how they share up to a year's leave to look after their new-born children.

The proposed reforms will give parents greater flexibility about how they 'mix and match' care of their child in the first year after birth. They may take the leave in turns or take it together, provided they have no more than 52 weeks combined in total.

The Children and Families Bill also includes reforms to adoption, family justice, the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system, and plans to introduce childminders agencies. It also includes the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees.

The changes in parental leave are designed to allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child and help mothers to go back to work at a time that is right for them, returning a pool of talent to the workforce.

On adoption, children wait an average of almost two years between entering care and moving in with an adoptive family. The Bill seeks to improve support for the families, and ensure that a search for a perfect or partial ethnic match does not become a barrier to finding a child a parent.

On family justice, the Bill seeks to introduce a time limit of 26 weeks when courts are considering whether a child should be taken into care, ensuring they do not get caught up in unnecessary evidence or bureaucratic delay. It will also bring in new 'child arrangement orders' designed to focus parents on the child's needs rather than their own 'rights' and make sure more families have the opportunity to try mediation before applying to court.

The Bill aims to extend the SEN system from birth to 25, giving children, young people and their parents greater choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met. It will replace statements and learning difficulty assessments with a new birth-to-25 Education, Health and Care Plan, extending rights and protections to young people in further education and training and offering families personal budgets so they have more control over the support they need.

Children and families minister Edward Timpson, who is to make a speech on the issue later, said: "In this Bill we will overhaul adoption - breaking down barriers for adopters and provide more support to children. We will reform family justice - tackling appalling delays and focusing on the needs of the child. And we will improve services for vulnerable young people - transforming the Special Educational Needs system and better protecting children's rights."

Business minister Jo Swinson said: "Current workplace arrangements are old-fashioned and rigid. The Children and Families Bill will bring the way mums and dads balance their lives at work and at home into the 21st century."

The SEN proposals received an unenthusiastic response from charity Scope, whose chief executive Richard Hawkes said: "Parents of disabled children have been looking forward to action. But instead it looks like the Government is going to politely suggest to local bodies that they do their best to improve things."

© Press Association 2013

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