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UK Care Proceedings in Crisis

UK Care Proceedings in Crisis

The Children Act is 30 years old. But in recent years, it has been put under severe strain because of a massive increase in the number of care or supervision order applications by local authorities.

Add to this a sustained period of austerity, overstretched family courts, 26 week time limits to complete proceedings from the day they are issued, significant cuts in the voluntary advice sector, plus legal aid reforms, and it’s easy to understand why as practitioners in child law we remain frustrated by a legal process that is failing to prioritise the interests of the most vulnerable.

Options for Change

In June 2018, The Care Crisis Review was undertaken. This was an independent study of the child welfare and family justice system in England and Wales. Carried out by a group of senior lawyers, social workers, charities and academics, the Review set out 20 options for reforming the system. These included a call for the Government to review the impact of poverty and cuts to social security benefits on care applications, and a recommendation that ministers meet the estimated £2bn shortfall in children’s social services budgets.

Whilst the media response to the Review’s publication was extensive, to date, Government actions have been slow to materialise. There have been rumblings that the scope of legal aid may be expanded so it’s more inclusive, enabling increasing numbers of people access to legal help, including vital early stage advice. But thanks to less early or preventative support resulting in local authorities being more likely to intervene later down the line when there is heightened family stress and a crisis, it’s clear that a radical overhaul needs to happen soon.

Welfare and wellbeing

Nicola Aldridge, Chartered Legal Executive Family Law at Alsters Kelley said. "As lawyers, we are always focused on achieving the best outcomes for children and families. With the number of children in care continuing to rise, we remain worried about their long-term futures. Because in an over stretched system, it’s only logical that over time we will see more mistakes being made. This may mean that a child could spend more time in limbo between permanent arrangements than they should.”

She continued. “And whilst it’s worrying that the number of new cases has increased and adoption rates have fallen, we perhaps need to look further at why this is happening. Is there an increase in abuse or neglect of children? Is the adoption process too rigorous and unwieldy? Or are there other factors which may be playing a significant role? Whatever the answers, we need to work together to see if there are any preventative things, we can do to divert families away from the courts and resolve disagreements and other issues quicker and more easily.”

We have a vast amount of experience in supporting clients going through public law care proceedings and frequently act for children and parents where local authorities are intervening in family life.

For timely and quality advice, please contact, Nicola Aldridge on 02477 710010 or email nicola.aldridge@alsterskelley.com

 

 


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