Majority of family courts miss 26-week target

By Neil Puffett

| 01 September 2014

More than two-thirds of court areas in England have failed to meet a target for care proceedings to be completed within six months.

The 26-week limit for family law cases became law in April. Picture: David McCullough

Statistics released by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) show that across England the average time care applications that were completed between April and June this year stood at 31 weeks.

The figure is five weeks above a 26-week limit that became law in April through the Children & Families Act.

The legislation will apply to cases initiated from 22 April - meaning cases that were concluded between April and June are unlikely to have been covered by the new law.

The figures show that authorities still have work to do to meet the target.

A breakdown of the statistics shows that 29 out of the 42 geographical judicial areas of England had failed to meet the 26-week target (70.7 per cent).

The area with the highest average time taken was Taunton – where it took an average of 41 weeks for cases to be completed.

A further five areas – Central London, Coventry, Sheffield, Watford, and West London had an average of 39 weeks.

However, 12 areas either met or bettered the 26-week target.

The best performing area was Truro, with an average case duration of 17 weeks, followed by York with 19 weeks.

The new limit is intended to ensure children can be found a home within six months. The hope is that cutting out delays will mean more children can be found a permanent home quickly, avoiding exposing them to potential risk or harm to their development.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass said the statistics showed preogress is being made on variation between areas.

He added that the duration of new cases is within the statutory 26-week limit.

"Intensive work continues in those local areas with the highest durations, to understand the root causes of delay and to take effective multi-agency action," he said.

Although the latest average figure is above the target, it represents an improvement on previous quarterly statistics.

Cafcass figures for the fourth quarter of 2013/14 shows the average case duration for the three months up to the end of March was 33 weeks.

In addition, figures released by the Ministry of Justice last December showed that in the three months between April and June 2013, the average duration of care proceedings was 40.8 weeks. At the end of 2011 it stood at 54.6 weeks.

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