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The Children and Families Act 2014

Last updated on 30th March 2023

The Children and Families Act 2014 was a landmark law in the UK. It changed and enhanced a lot of laws and rules that were already in place. Lots of elements of how children and families interact with the state were brought together into one piece of legislation. It became law after receiving royal assent on 10th March 2014.

Lots of different professions are covered by the law. It affects people who work in family law, health and social care, education, and human resources, primarily. Since the law is so far-reaching, it’s worth getting to grips with the provisions and how that can affect your day-to-day working.

To ensure that you’ve got all the information you need about the Children and Families Act, we’re going to cover:

  • A general summary of the Children and Families Act.
  • How the Act brought in changes to safeguarding systems.
  • The main elements of the law.
  • How each of the points relates to your work.

This will give you the information you need to comply with the rules and implement the Act safely.

What is the Children and Families Act 2014?

Brought in under the coalition government, the Act is broad in its scope. It brings together lots of different areas of law that affect children, especially vulnerable children, and codifies how they are protected in law.

To give you a summary of the main impact of the Act:

  • Adoption processes have been updated and made faster.
  • Children in care get more rights.
  • The family justice system has been reformed to be faster and fairer on children.
  • Rights of children with special educational needs have been strengthened.
  • Child welfare in care and in school has been improved.
  • The childcare sector should see a growth in participation.
  • Shared parental leave has been introduced so new mums and dads can split time off.
  • A new Children’s Commissioner role has been introduced to provide advocacy.

Inside these changes are lots of details that will have an impact on many different sectors. Even if you are not directly affected, it’s worth understanding the full scope of the law.

For example, as a teacher there will only be a few sections of the law that will directly impact on your responsibilities around safeguarding. However, understanding the rules on how children who live in care are dealt with could help you support a pupil in an informed way.

The legislation is mainly aimed to protect vulnerable children or those at risk. These children are going to interact with local government agencies and bodies much more often, so how professionals work with them needs to be set out. Children have new rights to fast and fair processes and must get more consideration in the legal system, for example.

Young parents laid on the floor with baby reading

The nine important parts of the Children and Families Act

With such a wide-ranging set of laws, plus rules and regulations that go along with them, we need to break it down to make it easier to understand. Your professional role will determine which section of the law is applicable to you, but it’s good practice to familiarise yourself with all elements.

We’re going to break down each of the nine important elements of the Children and Families Act, summarising what the law means for children and families, as well as the workers they will encounter.

Part 1 – Adoption

Historically, the process for adoption in the UK has been slow and sometimes cumbersome. Within the Act, the government aimed to make adoption faster so that more children could get out of care and into permanent family arrangements.

In the year up to March 2019, 3,570 children were adopted in England and Wales. This was a decrease on previous years, around one third lower than 2015 when adoption numbers were at their peak.

A new principle in the law is “foster to adopt”, whereby people already approved to foster can take a child into their home whilst waiting for the adoption process to go through. This should lead to children going into a long-term, stable family faster and remove them from the short-term foster care system.

Previously, there had also been a requirement in adoption to consider matching ethnic backgrounds of adoptive parents with their new children. The Act recognises that this caused delays in adoption and removed this provision.

Allocation of personal budgets to adoptive families was also introduced. New parents have strong right to access information about everything that they are entitled to in terms of government benefits and support.

One final important part of the law is the ability for courts to demand or prohibit contact with the adopted child by certain people. In reality, this means that birth parents or other relatives can seek the right to see the child being adopted and the new parents aren’t able to stop it. The access must be facilitated by local authorities where necessary.

How does this affect my work?

These sections of the law will mainly affect people working within local government. If you cover any part of the adoption process, from working with children and parents to working with budgets for social care departments, you need to be aware of the changes.

Everything that is in the law should already be part of your departmental procedures and guidelines. You can request more information and even training from your supervisor if you feel like you need more details.

Part 2 – Family justice

If you’ve ever had to work alongside family court you will know it used to be a drawn-out and painful process for all involved. The Second part of the Children and Families Act aimed to resolve the issues within the system and make things better for children. The number of children being looked after increased by 4% in 2019, adding new pressures to family law systems.

When children are going through the process of being placed in care, the law says the proceedings shouldn’t take more than 26 weeks, with a judge deciding if an extension is needed. The welfare of the child must be taken into account when considering any change in the timetable.

Further, a single Family Court was created to streamline processes. This is meant to ensure the right judge, in terms of seniority, hears the case first time. Whether a judge can hear expert testimony has been changed from “reasonably required” to “necessary”.

In terms of parental contact, the previous regime of contact and residence orders have been superseded by child arrangement orders. The intent was to remove the idea of a parent “winning or losing” a battle, although the same things are covered in the child arrangement orders.

How does this affect my work?

If your role works with children going through proceedings that could end in them being taken into care, you need to be aware of the time frames. You may also be called on less frequently to offer expert testimony now than before the Act came in, with the requirements having changed.

Anyone who works with children should be aware of child arrangement orders. These are court mandated orders about parents getting contact and where a child lives. It’s important you’re aware of things like who will pick a child up from school or if a parent has restricted contact.

Foster family sat with foster son in family court

Part 3 – Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities

The third part of the Children and Families Act 2014 has lots of provisions and changes many elements of how local authorities work with children and young people with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN). Here, we’ll give you a summary of the information that will be useful for everyone; seek guidance and training from your supervisor if you feel you need it.

  • The legislation lays out that local government needs to pay attention to the wishes and feelings of those being worked with, allow for participation on processes and offer support so that can happen, and work to achieve the best possible educational outcomes.
  • The definition of a child with SEN and a disability is laid out, as is the difference between a child and a young person.
  • Young people with SEN in detention have the right to special education provision, with it being the responsibility of their “home” local authority. Special provisions also need to be made for their release.
  • Proactive responsibility for identifying and monitoring children with disabilities or SEN falls to local authorities. The same authorities have to have adequate provisions in place to look after these children and must work with local health bodies etc.
  • All local authorities must have a Local Offer. This outlines the services available to children and young people with SEN and must be updated.
  • There is a presumption that children will be educated in a mainstream setting, unless the child or their parents are against it.
  • Every child with SEN must have an Education, Health, and Care (EHC) plan in place, supplied by the local authority. The authority must consider whether to carry out an assessment for an EHC plan if the parent or child asks for it, or if a child with SEN is brought to the attention of the authority. The plans must be actioned and reviewed regularly.
  • Parents have a right to mediation if they don’t agree with a plan and must be kept informed of any changes.
  • Schools and nurseries are required to use their “best endeavours” to meet the needs of the children they educate, including those with SEN. There must be a qualified SEN coordinator in each school and a SEN report must be published regularly.

How does this affect my work?

This part of the law affects child services in local government as well as anyone working in a school or nursery setting. Those who work in juvenile criminal justice should also be aware of the provision for children and young people with SEN under their care.

Many different things are touched on in this section and there is more detailed guidance available from government ministries and the local authorities or departments that you work under or with.

Part 4 – Childcare

Part 4 of the Act is brief. It allows schools and other providers to set up childminding agencies, which should increase provision of childcare after school hours. There had previously been an obligation for local authorities to carry out an assessment of sufficiency of childcare provision every three years – this has been removed.

Further, nurseries and schools can no longer actively request for an OFSTED inspection.

How does this affect my work?

Any role that was involved in the three-year sufficiency assessment will no longer need to complete their tasks. It’s still necessary for the local authority to know the information, just not assess it every three years.

If you work in a nursery or after-school childcare, you should be aware of the frameworks for provisions as well.

Childminder with children she is looking after

Part 5 – Child welfare

This part of the Children and Families Act 2014 deals with some health and wellbeing elements for children. Within the Act, there are rules about tobacco packaging not being appealing to young people and a new offence of buying tobacco for anyone under 18. It’s also an offence to smoke in a car where there are children.

Other elements of this part include:

  • Reception, year one, and year two children having the right to free school meals.
  • Children in foster care have the right to “stay put” with their family until they’re 21 years old.
  • Young carers have the right to receive support from their local authority.
  • Local authorities must appoint a “Virtual School Head” to ensure looked-after children achieve at school.

How does this affect my work?

Anyone who works with children in a local government setting should be aware of these provisions. It’s also important for teachers and other staff in primary schools to be aware of the free school meal provision so that they can direct enquiries to the right place if a parent asks about it.

Part 6 – The Children’s Commissioner

The role of Children’s Commissioner was set up in the wake of the abuse and death of Victoria Climbié, with the office being instigated following a 2004 report. The commissioner originally had data-gathering powers and the remit was to be the eyes and ears for children; to represent their needs to government.

With the introduction of the Children and Families Act in 2014, the role of the Children’s Commissioner was strengthened. The commissioner was given responsibility for protecting the rights of children who leave care, who live away from home, and who are in receipt of social care services.

Details about term limits and recruitment of the Children’s Commissioner were also added to the legislation.

How does this affect my work?

The Children’s Commissioner has powers to collect data, so they could ask your department for data and help connecting with children. The commissioner’s work can cover a whole range of issues to do with children. If you work with children it’s important you know about this role and it could be helpful to follow updates from the department.

Part 7 – Statutory rights to leave and pay

The regime for parental leave in the UK was updated under the Children and Families Act 2014. The key provisions of shared parental leave (SPL) are:

  • Parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of paid leave between them.
  • SPL needs to be taken within the first year of birth or adoption.
  • Adopting parents have the rights to time off work, too.

How does this affect my work?

If you have a baby or choose to adopt you have the right to take both paid and unpaid time off work, and share that with the other parent. Further, if you work in HR, it’s important that you know what the rules are around shared parental leave to ensure it’s applied correctly.

Woman with newborn baby taking her statutory maternity leave pay

Part 8 – Time off work

The eighth section is also rather brief in the Children and Families Act. It confirms the right to time off for antenatal appointments, including the father having the right to attend two appointments.

For parents looking to adopt, when you need to attend meetings, time off work to go to these is also guaranteed.

Part 9 – Right to request flexible working

The right to request flexible working in the UK has been law since 1996, as long as the worker has been employed for at least 26 consecutive weeks. The initial right was only for people who had to care for children or other dependants.

The Children and Families 2014 updated this so that anyone had the right to make a flexible working request. The employee still needs to have been employed for at least 26 weeks. The procedures for processing the request was removed and employers’ responsibility became the need to deal with the request in a reasonable manner.

How does this affect my work?

If you’re a HR professional, you need to understand the meaning of looking at a request in a reasonable manner. Guidance on this should come from your employer and there’s information on government websites, also.

Anyone who works should also be aware that they have this right. You no longer need the justification of having someone to care for to be able to make a flexible working request.


There is a lot packed into the Children and Families Act 2014. This summary gives you a good grounding on the main points that you need to know, whatever your work and level of seniority. If you’re unsure whether you need to go deeper into any area, speak with your employer.

Children are the main focus of the law, protecting those who are vulnerable and giving them the right to have a say in their education and care situation. The changes to family justice should also make a change in family circumstances easier, too.

For families, access to shared parental leave and for both parents to go to appointments gives more equality. There is no longer the need for the mother to take all the time away from her career. Rights for adoptive parents are also stronger, which should make things easier along with more streamlined adoption and fostering rules within Part 1.

Be sure to familiarise yourself with the laws. It will make sure that you are compliant in your role and that you can offer the right professional support and guidance where needed.

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About the author

Joanne Rushton

Joanne began her career in customer services in a UK bank before moving to South East Asia to discover the world. After time in Malaysia and Australia, she settled in Hanoi, Vietnam to become an English teacher. She's now a full-time writer covering, travel, education, and technology.

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