Child Safety Week 2024: Understanding Legal Rights and Safety Measures for Children

Child Safety Week is the Child Accident Prevention Trust’s annual community education campaign aiming to raise awareness about the importance of children’s safety and well-being. This week-long campaign (from 3 to 9 June 2024) provides parents, caregivers, and the wider community with valuable insights into child safety. Its goal is to empower families with the confidence and skills necessary to manage the real risks to children’s safety. 

This year Child Safety Week 2024 is themed “Safety, Sorted!” We encourage everyone to visit the Child Accident Prevention Trust website, which offers a range of free resources. These materials suggest small, manageable changes that can significantly enhance family safety.

We also believe it is crucial to approach child safety with a comprehensive understanding of Family Law, focusing on children’s rights, protection, and the legal measures available to safeguard these young individuals. Laura Martin, Partner and Head of Family Law will explain in more detail throughout this article.

The Role of Parents and Caregivers in Child Safety

Child safety is a paramount concern for families. Parents often find themselves faced with a myriad of challenges when it comes to creating a safe environment for their children. From baby-proofing the house to teaching road safety, parents play a crucial role in safeguarding their children from potential hazards.

In addition to physical hazards, there are issues such as online safety. The rapid advancement of technology has brought new challenges for parents and caregivers in protecting children from online dangers. 

The Legal Framework: The Children Act 1989

Under English Family Law, parents have legal obligations to ensure the safety and welfare of their children. The Children Act 1989 is a key legislation that outlines these responsibilities and provides guidelines for child protection. The Act emphasises the importance of promoting the best interests of the child and ensuring their right to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.

The main principle of the Children Act 1989 is to ensure that the welfare of children remains the paramount consideration in any decision made by the Courts. The Act provides a framework for addressing various issues related to children, including parental responsibilities, contact and residence arrangements, and safeguarding their well-being in cases of family breakdown.

Key Provisions of The Children Act 1989

One of the key provisions of the Children Act 1989 is the establishment of the principle that the welfare of the child is of paramount importance. This principle guides the decision-making process in family court cases, placing the child's best interests above all other considerations. The Act emphasises the significance of maintaining a child's relationship with both parents unless it is deemed harmful to the child's welfare. It is a child’s right to have a relationship with both parents and in practice that means spending quality time with each parent, where it is safe to do so. 

Moreover, the Act introduced the concept of parental responsibility, which refers to the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority a parent has in relation to their child. It underscores the importance of both parents being involved in major decisions affecting the child, such as education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and the child’s living arrangements in the event that their parents separate.

The Act also recognises that parental responsibility may be held by individuals other than biological parents, such as adoptive parents or guardians. This parental responsibility gives both parents the legal status to make decisions and take responsibility for their children in their day-to-day upbringing and in respect to major decisions in their lives. The Courts hope that parents will be able to agree to all arrangements concerning their children amongst themselves but ultimately if an agreement cannot be reached then it is open to either parent to make a separate freestanding application to the Court regarding their children.

One of the key Orders made under the Children Act 1989 is the Child Arrangements Order, which determines with whom a child will live, spend time, or have contact. This Order aims to provide a stable and safe environment for the child, taking into account their wishes and feelings, as well as their physical, emotional, and educational needs. The Act encourages parents to consider the child's best interests when making these arrangements and reinforces the importance of maintaining the child's relationships with their immediate and extended family members.

Another important Order made under the Children Act 1989 is the Prohibited Steps Order, which prohibits a parent from taking certain actions without the Court's permission, such as taking the child out of the country or making specific decisions about the child's upbringing. Decisions about moving and relocation should be well thought out and planned.

The Children Act 1989 also provides for Specific Issue Orders, which are intended to resolve specific disputes related to the child's upbringing, such as the decisions about education, medical treatment, or religious upbringing. These orders aim to ensure that the child's welfare is prioritised in any decision-making process.

Protecting Children in Emergencies

The Act empowers the Court to issue an Emergency Protection Order in cases where a child is believed to be at risk of significant harm. These Orders are designed to provide immediate protection for the child until a more permanent solution can be arranged.

In cases where a child is at risk of harm or has already experienced abuse, Family Law professionals play a critical role in obtaining protective orders and providing legal remedies to protect the child. Child Safety Week serves as a reminder to diligently advocate for the safety of vulnerable children and to take swift action when their well-being is in jeopardy.

In cases where there are concerns about the welfare of a child, the Children Act 1989 addresses the issue of child protection, outlining the responsibilities of Local Authorities to intervene and provide protection for children at risk of harm or neglect. The Act empowers the courts to make Care and Supervision Orders, enabling them to intervene and safeguard the welfare of children when necessary. It also encourages Local Authorities to work in partnership with parents to support families in need, promoting the resolution of issues without the need for court intervention whenever possible.

While the Court will make decisions based on what is in a child’s best interests, the Court will also take into account the following factors in a Welfare Checklist:

(a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child;

(b) the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs;

(c) the likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances;

(d) the child’s age, sex, background, and any relevant characteristics which the court considers relevant;

(e) any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;

(f) how capable each of the child’s parents is;

(g) the range of powers available to the court.

The Court also considers two principles -  the principle of non-delay, that any delay in dealing with matters is seen to be detrimental to a child;  and the principle of non-intervention in that the Court will only make an Order if it is deemed necessary for a child.

It is important for parents to be aware that the Children Act 1989 offers a range of remedies to address issues related to children's welfare in the context of family breakdown or dispute. These Orders are designed to prioritise the best interests of the child and ensure that their welfare is the paramount consideration in any decision-making process.

If parents have any concerns about their children or wish to discuss any aspect of the above article, please contact Laura Martin at or 01258459361, or visit our Family Law webpage.  

Blanchards Bailey

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