LexisNexis Butterworths Law Leader, Spring 2010
New legislation means child minders in Wales must now be registered. Selena Masson speaks to Thea Hughes of Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice.

The Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010, which was partly enacted on 10 February 2010, has made new provisions for the eradication of child poverty in Wales.

The Measure makes provision about child minding and day care for children, establishing integrated family support teams and boards and improving standards in social work for children and people who care for them. It also makes provision about assessing the needs of children where their parents need community care services or have health conditions which affect the needs of the children.

Child care law specialist Thea Hughes is a partner at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice LLP, which is based in Cardiff. She says: “The regulation sets out broad aims to be met by Welsh Ministers, which relate to the way in which contributions are to be made to the eradication of child poverty.”

Hughes says she welcomes the legislation: “The broad aims are in themselves to be applauded, but it remains to be seen how the Welsh Ministers’ strategy will take on board the same. Indeed, the obligation on the Welsh Ministers is to publish a strategy which must set out its objectives which relate to only one or more of the 13 broad aims set out in the regulations. There appears, therefore, to be a very wide discretion for the Welsh Ministers to meet some—but by no means all—of the broad aims.”

However, Hughes adds the publication of this legislation has raised questions over how it will actually be delivered. “In due course, local authorities will have a duty to provide free child care for prescribed children under compulsory school age. There is no mention within the regulations of how this will be funded, nor indeed the funding of other duties which will be placed upon the local authorities.”

Other duties include assessing the sufficiency of play opportunities in the area, and the establishment of integrated family support teams to whom the local authority may refer a family if it reasonably suspects or believes a parent may be dependent upon alcohol or drugs, or is a victim of domestic abuse, has a history of violent or abusive behaviour, or has a mental disorder. “All of these duties appear to be laudable, but there will always be concern that the already-stretched resources of local authorities will have even further obligations to meet,” says Hughes.

So what do child care lawyers need to be aware of? “Lawyers should familiarise themselves with all the new duties which are being imposed upon local authorities, and how those duties will affect case management conferences and care proceedings generally,” says Hughes.

Hughes concludes: “Of particular importance for lawyers will be the local authorities’ obligation to make such arrangements as it considers suitable to promote and facilitate participation by children in decisions of the authority which might affect them. There may therefore be the opportunity for more representation of children once these regulations are fully in force.”