'Mix And Match' Parental Care Plans Unveiled

Parents will be able to choose how they share parental leave to look after their new-born children in the first year after birth, in plans to be revealed today.

The Children and Families Bill is designed to allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their children while at the same time help persuade mothers to return to work at a time that is best for them.

Both parents will be given the opportunity to 'mix-and-match' childcare leave between them, taking time off in turns or together.

Business minister Jo Swinson said: "Current workplace arrangements are old-fashioned and rigid. The Children and Families Bill will bring the way mums and dads balance their lives at work and at home into the 21st century."

The Government also wants there to be fewer delays in the child adoption process. At present children must wait an average of two years before entering care and moving in with a family.

The Bill also aims to ensure that a child having only a partial ethnic match with its adoptive parents does not become a barrier to placing children in caring homes.

Bureaucratic delays when deciding whether to place children into care are also targeted. The Bill seeks to limit the length of time the courts can take when making such decisions to 26 weeks.

Also included are proposals to introduce a new birth-to-25 Education, Health and Care Plan which will extend protections to young people in further education and training.

But this Special Educational Needs (SEN) plan has received a lukewarm response from children's charity Scope.

Chief Executive Richard Hawkes said: "The Government said its SEN reform would prevent parents being forced to go from 'pillar to post' in a battle between different authorities and agencies.

"Parents say it's a battle to get their children support such as childcare or nursery places, appropriate schools, essential therapies or even healthcare in their local area.

"But buzzwords such as 'culture change' and 'local frameworks' will do nothing to alleviate the stress and anxiety parents feel.”

"Parents need a guarantee that their children will get the right therapy, nursery or support - not the 'SEN yellow pages'. That guarantee just won't be there."