‘My nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.’Shakespeare, Sonnet 140
The law clarifies responsibilities and legitimises interventions, providing a framework in which CAMHS may address the best interests of the young person and family. The central pieces of legislation relevant to CAMHS are the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Mental Health Act 1983 as amended in 2007, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005, although this has limited relevance to those under 16. The implications of these and related Acts to CAMHS practice are detailed for professionals (White et al, 2004; Harbour, 2008) and for parents (Family and Parenting Institute, 2007). The National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE; 2009) has recently produced a helpful text, which navigates through the recent changes in legislation.
Children Act 1989
The Act represented a major rationalisation of the legal framework for dealing with children and identifies principles (Box 3.1) that are central to working with children and families. The welfare checklist (Box 3.2) provides a framework for planning for children and their families. As defined in the Act, a child is a minor until their 18th birthday. The Act also defines and upholds the principle of parental responsibility as:
‘All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’
The Act also provides guidance as to who holds parental responsibility, although the list has grown following subsequent acts (Adoption and Children Act 2002, Civil Partnership Act 2004). It goes on to identify principles that govern the courts and any court orders that relate to the care of children.
• The welfare of the child is paramount – Section 1(1).
• Delay must be reduced and avoided – Section 1(1).
• An order cannot be considered unless it is demonstrably better for the child than making no order at all.
• Account is taken of limiting legislation – Section 91(14).
The principles recognise that the child must be seen and understood in a developmental as well as a relational and family context. Interventions must be both realistic and pragmatic, with reasonable aims and expectations, always striving for the least restrictive alternative and the intervention that will do not only the most good but also the least harm.