Reflections on the Children Acts 1989 & 2004

This year marks 30 years and 15 years respectively since the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 received Royal Assent. The 1989 Act marked a turning point in children’s rights legislation in England and Wales. It introduced comprehensive change concerning the welfare of children. Central to this was the idea that children’s wishes and feelings must be taken into account when making decisions that affect them. Traditionally, parents were seen to have rights over their children, but the Act reversed this stating that children had free standing right. These welcome child centred principles remain at the heart of all local authorities do.

It is important to celebrate the successes of the Acts. Children are safer now than they were 30 years ago for example. However, many of the challenges faced by children, their families and the services they rely on today could not have been foreseen by the legislators such as the levels of pressure currently in the system or the use of Section 20 voluntary accommodation arrangements for unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children arriving in this country with no family ties.

Over the past decade, the preventative principles underpinning the ‘89 Act have been eroded by austerity, chronically underfunded children’s services and rising need. We continue to call on government to work with us to reclaim and resource the core principles of prevention in the Act, backed by adequate new funding.

The 2004 Act went further to create, amongst other things, the concept of a clear, single point of professional accountability for children and young people’s outcomes in the director of children’s services (DCS). A single individual uniquely centred in the local place in which they work, to bring together different parts of the systems in the best interests of children. It also provided the legal underpinning for the Every Child Matters outcomes framework.

To mark the anniversary of the Acts we have invited the ADCS President, Vice President and Past Presidents to reflect on the Children Acts of 1989 and 2004, the successes and what has changed since they became law.

View the reflections

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