Reforming Children’s Law: History and Ideology

  • Michael D. A. Freeman
Part of the Practical Social Work book series (PSWS)


The Children Act is ‘the most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of child law in living memory’. It provides a new legal framework, but it does more than that. It rewrites the language of child care law and practice. It represents a change in attitude towards children and their families. The Act is about ‘parental responsibility’, which is for life; about’support for children and families’ where those ‘in need’ require assistance to carry out this responsibility; and about ‘partnership’, in many senses the key concept, although it does not appear in the Act itself. It requires, as the Cleveland report (1988) did, that ‘the child is a person and not an object of concern’. The Act is a product of many sources, including reports of inquiries into a series of abuse scandals in the late 1980s (London Borough of Brent (1985), London Borough of Greenwich (1987), London Borough of Lambeth (1987), Cleveland (1988)). But of these it is the influence of the Cleveland report which is most profound. Social workers had been criticised in the earlier reports for not using statutory coercive powers firmly enough (Parton (1986), Stevenson (1986), Freeman (1990)). The Cleveland report criticised them for an over-reliance upon compulsory measures and for paying too little attention to parents by adopting a perspective which placed ‘a strong focus on the needs of the child in isolation from the family’ (Cleveland report, para. 4.57).


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© British Association of Social Workers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael D. A. Freeman

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