Cafcass chief: Stemming care applications may require law change

By Neil Puffett

| 15 August 2016

Changes to legislation may be required in order to curb steep rises in the number of applications for children to be taken into care, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has said.

Cafcass wants more councils to plan to provide support for children who could be subject to care proceedings to stay with their families. Picture: Morguefile

Last week it emerged that Cafcass is working with government to look at possible measures to stem demand. In July a total of 1,305 care applications were made - a record for a single month and a 16.2 per cent increase on the same month last year.

Speaking to CYP Now, Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said that the organisation is working with the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and the Association of Directors of Children's Services to try to tackle the issue.

Douglas said Cafcass is keen to do more pre-proceedings work with local authorities, so that children who do not need to be subject to care proceedings can be identified and "stepped-down" and looked after in the community, with the focus on child protection planning.

He added that while in some areas up to 10 per cent of children a local authority has concerns about are placed at home with their parents, in some other parts of the country the provision is "not used at all".

"It is quite inconsistent across the country," he said.

"By standardising it, we would hope to reduce demand in some parts of the country."

Douglas said legislative changes would be necessary if Cafcass's powers are "fundamentally changed".

"When you start to look at it, some [of the measures] might need primary legislation, [and] some might need secondary legislation," he said.

"Some may need guidance, and some may need court rules.

"At the moment our functions are restricted to cases in court, or cases that are imminent. If we are operating in a much greater way pre-proceedings, we might need an adjustment to the statute."

Douglas said attempts are already being made to reduce numbers of care applications.

Cafcass Plus, a pilot programme that involves Cafcass family court advisers working with local authorities in their pre-proceedings practice has been found to successfully divert some cases from court.

"Whilst these programmes can show outcomes over six to 12 months, they are not as great as the increases in new cases coming through," he said.

"We are not really keeping pace."

Efforts are also being made to divert private law cases away from the courts. Douglas said that in around 20 per cent of cases there no safeguarding or serious welfare concerns.

"We are trying to approach it with more common thresholds with local authorities - so most of the serious cases get help and others are appropriately diverted," he said.

Numbers of care applications have been increasing rapidly for the past few years. In the first four months of the 2016/17 financial year there were a total of 4,959 care applications - a 20.4 per cent increase on the 4,118 applications in the same period of 2015/16 - which was itself a record year.

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