“Trend of falling care applications continues”

By Nina Jacobs

| 10 July 2019

Numbers of care applications have fallen again for the first quarter of this year, new figures show.

The rates released by the Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), show a 6.2 per cent drop in the number of care applications compared with last year.

Between April and June, Cafcass received 3,269 applications - 217 applications fewer than during the same period in 2018.

Some 1,021 new care applications were received by the family courts in June - 5.1 per cent lower than June 2018.

Figures released in April marked a three-year low, with applications falling nearly five per cent year-on-year.

Cafcass has previously said this is likely to be down to "edge-of-care" support programmes provided by an increasing number of councils, as well as a government focus on understanding the reasons for peaking demand in 2017.

The service said it received 13,556 applications from April 2018 to March 2019, down 648 applications (4.7 per cent) for the same period in 2017/18.

The latest figures are 7.2 per cent lower than in 2016/17 which saw 14,599 applications - the highest level on record.

With the exception of December 2016 and February 2017, all months of that year saw an average 1,100 applications per month.

A breakdown of care applications for individual councils show demand in certain areas has followed this year-on-year downward trend.

The percentage of applications per 10,000 child population fell in Bracknell Forest from 19.7 per cent in 2017/18 to 14.9 per cent for 2018/19.

Other areas such as Doncaster also recorded a drop from 18.1 per cent to 15.4 per cent for the same period.

However, figures for Lancashire, which recorded the highest level of applications for the first quarter of 2018/19, showed a percentage rise from 14.6 per cent to 16.16 from 2017/18 to 2018/19.

Birmingham, which also saw higher than average numbers of applications for the same quarter, only saw a slight drop in the percentage of year on year applications from 8.6 to 7.6 per cent.

Charlotte Ramsden, chair of the Association of Directors of Children's Services' health, care and additional needs policy committee, said: "The cases that make it into court are, by definition, in the highest levels of evidential need and it is important that local authorities respond effectively in these situations, although the actual quality of intervention cannot be judged by the data.

"What these statistics don't show is the cases where local authorities are working intensively with children and families to safely prevent care proceedings and children being taken into care in the first place." 

Ramsden said the figures reflect councils' continued action to safeguard and protect children and young people despite reduced budgets and significant increased demand for children's services.

"There is lots of good practice by local authorities in this space including a refocusing of resources into edge of care services and this is evidenced in the increasing proportion of authorities with good or outstanding Ofsted judgements as well as possibly by the national reduction in care cases shown here," she added.

It is too early to predict if levels would continue to decline for 2019/20, the ADCS said.

Cafcass announced in May its appointment of Jacky Tiotto, Bexley Council's current director of children's services, as its new chief executive.

Tiotto, who is due to join in Autumn this year, replaces Anthony Douglas who was its chief for 14 years.

  • On Monday of this week, Anglesey council reportedly rejected a Welsh Government call to set targets to cut numbers of children being taken into care, claiming that such a move would be irresponsible. The picture in England contrasts with Wales, which has seen ongoing rising rates of care orders over 15 years, of 34 per cent. In March 2018, numbers reportedly rose by 8 per cent on the previous year.