The Family Courts could face “a clear and imminent crisis” due to the rapid rise of care cases, the President of the Family Division has claimed.
Over the last ten years, the number of children in care has doubled and there could now be as many as 14,713 if official estimates are correct. In his latest View from the President’s Chambers, Sir James Munby said it was “generally agreed that this unprecedented increase was the consequence of the Baby Peter case”. In this infamous 2007 scandal, the child in question died from a series of injuries inflicted by his mother, her boyfriend and another man despite having been seen by local authority and NHS services on numerous occasions.
The care system and the people who run it are “at full stretch” as it is, Sir James insisted, so any further increases in their caseload could cause serious problems as they struggle to cope. However, the President made it clear that he will not be asking anyone to work harder:
“Everyone – everyone – is working as hard as they can.”
Sir James identified three possible explanations for the year-on-year increase in care applications. Either child abuse and neglect is increasing, local authorities are getting better at identifying children who need to be taken in or the threshold at which they intervene in a child’s life has been lowered. He did not believe that incidents of abuse were rising by 14 to 20 per cent each year. That “cannot be the sole explanation” he said.
Therefore, the only conclusion he could draw was that “changes in local authority behaviour must be playing a significant role” in the increase, something which he claimed was backed up by the official statistics. Specifically, he noted that the number of care cases varied greatly from council to council and there were “significant fluctuations within individual local authorities of the figures from year to year”. So the increase was most likely a combination of councils who got better at spotting troubled children and others who changed their threshold for getting involved.
Read the full View from the President’s Chambers here.