Its figures for 2013/14 show 59 per cent (90 out of 152) of English councils reported a decline in the number of care applications per 10,000 children compared to the previous year. For 26 of these councils this was the second consecutive annual fall.
However, Cafcass also found that 38 per cent of councils showed an increase in applications per 10,000 children, while three per cent recorded no change, reflecting wide variation in performance between local authorities.
England-wide, the number of care applications in 2013/14 totalled 9.2 per 10,000, down from 9.7 per 10,000 the previous year. However, the drop is still higher than the nine per 10,000 figure recorded in 2011/12.
Cafcass said a factor behind the decrease in many areas has been a greater focus on early intervention to support families in crisis and avoid the need to take a child into care.
Reforms in the Children and Families Act 2014, which put in place a 26-week time limit for care proceedings, have also contributed to the fall as councils focus on pre-proceedings work and explore alternatives to care such as kinship arrangements.
Association of Directors of Children’s Services vice president Alison O’Sullivan said: “By changing the way we work and further improving the quality of our assessments, we have shifted the burdens of the process away from the courts and back into the care planning process, which is the right thing to do for children and families.”
Latest monthly figures from Cafcass also point to a fall in applications. Cafcass received 797 applications in April this year, a 13 per cent decrease on figures for April 2013. In total, between April 2013 and March this year, Cafcass received 10,606 applications, a five per cent fall on figures for the previous year.
Between April 2012 and March 2013 there was an eight per cent rise in the number of applications.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said: “After year-on-year rises in applications it is not surprising to see that the rates have steadied as a cohort of children that were at risk have now been protected through the action of local authorities in bringing care proceedings.
“We will continue to meet with family justice colleagues to understand the differences in rates, to identify the best pockets of practice, and ensure that social work practice is developed to provide a sharp service that meets the needs of each individual child.”