The family courts have begun to replace a “culture of delay” with a “culture of urgency”, the Chief Executive of Cafcass has claimed.
Writing in Family Law, Anthony Douglas hailed a recent drop in the average time taken to complete care applications, down to 30 weeks from double that two years ago. He said:
“A halving of the time a case takes in court gives the average child subject to care proceedings – an extra 6 months less in limbo. Of course, this only makes sense if the speed with which the child can be placed securely and safely with permanent carers, whether back home, with relatives or with approved carers outside of the family network, is also faster.”
However, he claims, if new children entering the care system simply join the “4,000 plus” already looking for homes and permanent carers, “the greater speed in the family courts will count for little.”
The dramatic decrease in care application completion times “is a huge shift in operational culture which we can build on in the years to come.”
From April this year, family courts will be expected to resolve care applications and decide whether children should stay with their birth families or enter the care system within a maximum of 26 weeks (six and a half months), except in exceptional circumstances.
Mr Douglas believes this timetable will now be met before the law changes, saying this is a “testimony to all those practitioners in the family justice system who have worked hard to bring it about.”
“I do not believe the fears about miscarriages of justice to parents by completing cases quicker are borne out. 26 weeks is still a very long time in a child’s life.”
Parents who abuse or neglect their children must show that they can change “in a matter of months, not years”, he said. Children “marooned” in the care system, with no sign of resolution or permanent placement “can easily lose their sense of hope and trust.”