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“Vital” new bill helps children in care and with special needs

30th Dec 2015

In a turbulent political year, an important piece of legislation was approved in the Stormont assembly; In the midst of political division, all parties spoke in favour of The Children’s Services Co-Operation Bill, making it law.

The Children’s Services Co-Operation Bill places a legal duty on government agencies to co-operate when it comes to children’s services, which professionals in the field have said will make a vital and very practical difference.

Agencies will be legally required to work together in regards to children’s services, meaning they can pool financial resources instead of having to decide who pays for what element of a child’s needs.

Steven Agnew, a Green Party MLA who proposed the bill, said that it will be particularly significant for children in care and those with special educational needs.

“The legislation will make services for children effective and efficient, and make sure the resources put into children’s services get to children,” he stated. “It’s about making some of the good practice that happens in government common practice.”

Agnew moved the legislation through the assembly as a private members’ bill, as this is the only way for MLAs who are not ministers to get a law onto the statute books.

Mr Agnew’s idea was supported by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

They worked through some initial concerns that were expressed in early debates.

In the bill’s final stage, junior minister Emma Pengelly said that the legislation “highlighted the need for better cooperation in this vital policy area,” adding that “The range of outcomes that we wish to achieve for our children and young people can be realised only if we all work together.”

The children’s bill has now become the Children’s Act, having been signed into law by the Queen in December 2015.