Much attention has recently been drawn to the dramatic rise in local authorities removing children from their parents by making Section 31 applications to the Family Court.
Most recently we’ve seen the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, focussed on the inexorable rise in the numbers, stating in his 15th View from the President’s Chambers:
“I drew attention to the seemingly relentless rise in the number of new care cases. The fact is that we are approaching a crisis for which we are ill-prepared and where there is no clear strategy to manage the crisis.”
The figure of 12,781 for the 12 months to the end of March 2016 (up from 10,620 in the previous period) was drawn from Cafcass care demand figures. These of course refer only to England. In Wales Cafcass Cymru collects the corresponding statistics in the same way BUT it does not publish on an equivalent basis. Following lobbying of the Minister for Health and Social Services by our charity FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru, Cafcass Cymru has now agreed to publish limited data but they still will not do in as timely a fashion as their English counterparts.
We recently obtained the current figures for Wales. It shows a similar and worrying pattern. Applications to the year ended March 2016 were 833 – a rise of 8.6 per cent on the previous year. To give some context to the figures in population terms, Englishmen outnumber their Welsh counterparts by a little over 18:1 – so a direct comparison would have seen the English figure reach 15,000. More worryingly, the Welsh figures since April of this year have risen sharply with, for the first time, more than 100 applications in a single month (May – 112) and the overall rate month on month currently at 38.7 per cent ahead of the previous year.
In January the President gave the closing keynote speech at the Family Justice Network for Wales stakeholder event in Cardiff, and the position in the Principality was shared with him there. At the same event then Minister for Health and Social Services Mark Drakeford AM (Assembly Member), a social work academic at Cardiff University, also spoke, reiterating his very clear position on this issue:
“In Wales we take too many children into the care of local authorities….”
The following month (February 2016) care applications in Wales hit a new record of 88 – beating the figure at the height of the Baby P media coverage in March 2011 (84).
Our charity has written to the President since his recent comments, thanking him for bringing these issues into the public arena. Clearly something very serious is happening to children’s services and the family courts. The implications for the already overstretched Family Justice system are significant. At a recent meeting of the Cafcass Cymru Advisory Committee, I asked the outgoing CEO Gillian Baranski how many care applications that they had opposed in the past 12 months. The answer was a little surprising: to the best of her knowledge they had NEVER opposed such an application.
The Section 31 care applications in Wales can be viewed here.