Care application levels plateau after years of rises

By Tristan Donovan

| 12 April 2018

The number of applications being made to the courts for children to be taken into care has fallen slightly following years of rises, according to data released by Cafcass.

Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas says current levels of care applications are likely to continue. Picture: Cafcass

Figures from Cafcass show that the volume of care applications made by local authorities fell from 14,599 in 2016/17, to 14,204 in 2017/18 - the first annual fall in more than four years

The 2.7 per cent decline follows rises in excess of 14 per cent in both 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The number of care applications per 10,000 children also fell. In 2016/17 there were 12.5 applications per 10,000 children but this rate has now dropped to 12.2 per 10,000, the first fall since 2013/14 when there were 9.2 applications per 10,000 children.

Despite the declines, the 14,204 care applications made in 2017/18 remains the second highest number on record and is more than double the 6,488 applications made in 2008/09.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, said that while there had been a slight fall in care applications, he expects current levels to continue for the foreseeable future.

"While public law demand has plateaued in the last two years, after big hikes in 2015 and 2016, it is still at a very high level," he said.

"Cafcass still receives 55 to 60 applications a day, which is in line with the highest ever month in June 2017 (60 a day). Based on short-term trends, the current high levels of demand and demand pressures are expected to continue."

Alison Michalska, ADCS immediate past president, said that although the figures represent the first annual drop in care applications in recent years, there is no way of knowing whether this will form a future trend or is simply a dip.

"Local authorities continue to work intensively with children on the edge of care and families in crisis so that children can remain with their families where appropriate whilst remaining committed to seeking court intervention to keep children with the highest level of evidential need safe from harm where absolutely necessary," she said.

"More work is needed to understand and address current and future demand for children's services across the board. ADCS continues to highlight the need for a sufficiently funded and resourced children's services, enabling us to work with families at the earliest opportunity to prevent their problems from escalating to crisis point."

An NSPCC spokesman said: "While it's unclear whether this year's figures mark the start of a sustained change in the trend, we hope that this decline signals that families on the edge of the care system are getting the help they need early on.

"We know that the right help at the right time can help families provide safe, secure and supportive environment for their children and reduce the need for crisis interventions later on."

In recent years there has been growing concern about levels of care applications and resultant pressure on the system, with Sir James Munby, the president of the Family Division, warning in 2016 that the court system was being overwhelmed.

Efforts to mitigate the rises have included increased efforts by local authorities to develop edge of care support for families and a February 2017 agreement between Cafcass and the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) on how they can work together to secure swifter outcomes for children and their families.

Last November, Munby joined the stakeholder group overseeing a major review into the causes of the growth in care applications that is being conducted by the Family Rights Group.

Other members of the stakeholder group include Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas and the children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield. The review is due to be completed next month.

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