From public health to Ofsted: the impact of the Children Act 1989 on early years services

Publication Date27 Sep 2010
AuthorDenise Hevey
SubjectEducation,Health & social care,Sociology
Journal of Children’s Ser vices • V olume 5 Issue 3 • Sept ember 2010 © Pier Professional Ltd 69
Early years policy and services have been subjected to substantial and rapid reform over
the past 20 years. This article provides a brief overview of legislative and policy changes
over this period, with a particular focus on regulation and workforce issues, and traces the
enduring influence of the Children Act 1989 to the present. It identifies a paradigm shift in
early years services from a world view based on public health and care and on devolution
of responsibility, to one in which promoting children’s learning and development is core
and centralised regulation and national standards are seen as essential. This is reflected in
changed responsibilities at government department and regulatory body level. Despite these
major changes, the article concludes that the key principles of the Act – in terms of children’s
rights, parents’ responsibilities, listening to children and inter-agency co-operation – are still
Key words
Children Act 1989; early years; regulation; national standards; workforce
consolidation bill instead turned into a ground-
breaking piece of legislation that established a
number of key and enduring principles. These
included that children have rights and parents
have responsibilities (not ownership rights over
them); that the welfare/interests of the child (not
the parents) are paramount; that the child’s voice
should be heard in making decisions about their
future; and that co-operation and communication
between statutory and voluntary agencies are
essential to providing effective services to children.
One of the least noticed, but possibly most
used, sections of The Act was Part X, which set
The Children Act 1989 is best known for the way
that it laid the foundations for the next 20 years
of law and procedures related to child protection,
family disputes involving children and what happens
when children are ‘looked after’. Since the original
post-war Children Act 1948, law in this area
developed in a piecemeal fashion such that by the
1980s it was described by Aldgate and Statham
(2001) as ‘at best, complex and confused and, at
worst, contradictory’ (p5).
Following a review of childcare law (DHSS,
1985), what was to have been merely a
From public health to
Ofsted: the impact of
on early years services
Denise Hevey
University of Northampton, UK

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