Disabled children and the Children Act 1989

Publication Date27 Sep 2010
AuthorPeter Smith
SubjectEducation,Health & social care,Sociology
Journal of Children’s Ser vices • V olume 5 Issue 3 • Sept ember 2010 © Pier Professional Ltd 61
This article examines the impact on disabled children and their families of the Children Act
1989 from the author’s perspective of close involvement in this area of policy from 1992 to
2005. It argues that the inclusion of disabled children explicitly for the first time in children’s
legislation marked a necessary step in seeing disabled children as children first. Two main
areas of concern about the effectiveness of the Act’s implementation are highlighted. First,
provisions in the Act for disabled children living away from home in health and education
establishments have been widely ignored and are now seen as inadequate. Second is whether
the provisions regarding short breaks (respite care) have been effective in providing the sort of
support that families need at the required levels. The article suggests that passing legislation
may be insufficient in itself to have much impact on the lives of disabled children.
Key words
Disabled children; social care; Children Act 1989
review given to children in care. It recommended
an immediate review of those recommendations
of the Harvie report (DHSS, 1974) which relate to
the possibility of extending the protection of care to
handicapped children’ (paragraph 322).
Following the death of a London child in
a private children’s home for the mentally
handicapped in Suffolk, a study group of experts
was appointed by the Secretary of State to
examine the policy implications. This led to the
publication of the Harvie report in 1974, which
recommended a similar degree of supervision
for handicapped children living away from home
as for children in care. At that time, there was
looking after children to notify the director of
Introduction (and some
Disabled ch ildren were explici tly included in
children’s legislation for the first time by the
Children A ct 1989. This article focuses on two
areas of policy in discussin g the question of
whether the Act has had an y benefits for di sabled
children an d their families, namely disabled
children li ving away from ho me for substantial
periods in health and educat ion establishments,
and childre n living at home but having short
breaks away from their famil ies.
The Social Services Select Committee’s major
concern with regard to disabled children in 1984
was ‘handicapped’1 children living away from home
without the same systems for protection and
Disabled children
Peter M Smith
Social Worker, UK

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