The crisis of care is worse in Wales

Children|September 23rd 2016

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.

Paul Apreda is a Trustee of the English charity Families Need Fathers in addition to being National Manager of the Welsh charity. He is also Secretary of the cross party Group in the Welsh Assembly on fathers and fatherhood.

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  1. Julie Doughty says:

    You may mean that the population in England is 18 times that of Wales, because I don’t think it is correct that all child abuse in England is perpetrated by ‘Englishmen’. A comparison of the numbers of children living in England and Wales would be more helpful than basing this argument on Englishmen (whatever that means). There is research going on about the links between social inequality and the rate of LAC but no one seems to be coming out with a full explanation of the increasing rate since 2010.

    • Paul Apreda says:

      Thanks for yur comments Julie. I thought I was making a simple point about the comparison in the total populations so that the scale of the numbers of applications here could be seen against the English figures.
      As I think you know I sit on the Cafcass Cymru Advisory Committee. I have been asking for some form of explanation about the rise in the numbers of applications in Wales. No-one seems to have any idea at the Committee meetings. You may also be aware that the monthly figures were only published by Welsh Government up to 20 months after the event in the Cafcass Cymru annual report until we asked the then Minister, Professor Mark Drakeford, to intervene in the matter.
      In my estimation we desperately need a public debate on these issues, and one in which the voice of parents is heard – possibly for the first time.

      • Julie Doughty says:

        The MoJ is undertaking this research, I understand, rather than the respective English and Welsh governments.

        • Stitchedup says:

          Not sure what research you’re referring to Julie but Paul made a very simple comparison in terms of the number of children taken into care and population…. Hardly rocket science and we’re not exactly asking authorities, whoever they may be, to split the atom when responding to requests such as those made by Paul. What’s needed is more transparency through better and open reporting… Not what you might call blue sky research. This, in turn, can lead to an informed debate.

        • Paul Apreda says:

          Hi Julie – I think the Welsh Government have institued a review chaired by David Melding AM the Chair of the Cross Party Assembly Group on Looked After Children. Third Sector involvement in this comes from Children in Wales and Voices from Care – neither of which represent the voice of parents. What I see is a massive discrepancy betwwen the view of the Family Justice system on one hand (with the notable exception of the President and the previous Minister in Wales) and the experience of parents. Other comments to this post have identified a need for much greater transparency. That is essential. The fact that I needed to discover that Cafcass Cymru had NEVER opposed a s31 application in a meeting of their Advisory Committee is also a further example of the lack of transparency. It also raises for me a further question about the value for money of the organisation – a point that I will be making through the Assembly structures.

  2. Helen Lloyd Jones says:

    I am aware of a family where children were taken into care, when all that was really needed was an extra pair of hands to make sure the children of school age got to school and a taxi for them from school home in the afternoon. Mum simply couldn’t manage to dress all five children and walk them to the school. How many of us could? She loved the children, she kept them fed, she kept them clothed. Afterwards she had a breakdown which apparently proved that Social Services were right. The children were not even fostered as a set of siblings and it was financially and physically impossible for the mother and indeed the father to travel to see all the children in the time slots given.

    I am aware of another mother who was told she could keep her children if she left the father. So mum was obviously considered safe. One of her babies was born with a problem and had to go into hospital. Mum was not even allowed to visit her dying child without a social worker present and the social worker was not willing for mum to spend the entire allotted slot ( all of one hour a week) with the child.

    The oldest child by the father, ( by a different relationship) moved back to the house of his own accord as soon as he was old enough. He was extremely supportive of his step-mother.

    So yes, mistakes are happening and we have to be honest enough to admit it. Judge Munby made it clear, everybody is working as hard as they can to do what they can but we need to think where are we tying up resources unnecessarily?

    I know several dads who have DBS checks and who are entitled by law to work with any child in Britain who are not being allowed to see their children. Why? It’s crazy and it’s not in the children’s interest. Children flourish best when they know both parents love them and they know their extended family on both sides.

    Suppose we automatically allow parents who have an up to date DBS check stay involved in their children’s lives without asking for CAFCASS or CAFCASS Cymru reports. That would give the organisations more time to assess cases where possibly there are problems.

    If we really care about the children, we won’t spend our time trying to prove who is right about what, we will spend our time and energy into finding ways of helping families stay together. Maybe we have SuperNannies who go in for a month to help a family turn themselves round. Or send in cleaners, or help them understand their bills and enable them to get any benefits they are entitled to… and if we really are sure there is no option but to remove the children into care, we will move heaven and earth to keep the children in their sibling group.. unless there is a safety issue involved.

    And we will look to see if there is a grandparent willing to have the children because I have seen them too ignored when they would offer both children a home, in favour of trying an adoption option for one child and a foster for the other.

    • Paul Apreda says:

      Thanks for your comments Helen and the case studies that you’ve shared. There is a fundamental problem of perception between those who run the system and those who contact us for help and support.
      I believe that a significant part of this is the refusal of Children’s Services to make the threshold for care proceedings absolutely transparent so that everyone can see when that threshold is being reached and when it has been crossed.
      I met with social workers in Newport yesterday supporting their engagement with fathers. In the discussions they raised the point that the triggering of the Public Law Outline means that parents can be in little doubt about the ‘warning signs’ prior to s31 applications being made. I have sympathy with that view – and I’m also conscious that on our Helpline and our support meetings we hear one side of the story. That is why I want to stimulate a much more public and open debate about the issues to try to find a way through the seemingly inexorable rise in the number of children being remoed from their parents.

  3. Terence Grady says:

    The reasons for the rise in children being taken in Wales is very easy to explain. The problem is with Social Services who suffer from many faults, CSSIW a toothless shark has published damming reports year after year. The reports have indicated problems with inexperienced staff, that have not had sufficient guidance from more experience officers who were already suffering from a heavy work load due to the Baby P case. Main problem with Children’s services is lack of funding. The CSSIW reports on Anglesey service has been acknowledged by the Director of the service and since 2011 nothing at all has changed, in fact matters are worse. Management that has helped create the problem is obviously not equipped to make change in the 5 years I have been aware of.

    Cafcass Cymru in cases removing children are supposed to protect children from poor social work. In my experience I have documentary evidence that Cafcass Cymru fail to do this. I have seen cases where Cafcass officers do very little work at all and just agree with poor social work reports. I saw one case where a 5 year old boy who had been seriously sexually abused while in foster care that he should never have been placed. The child’s Cafcass Cymru guardian did not even appear in court this is against directives in these cases, her work was equally poor together with a very young solicitor she had engaged. As Cafcass are the last stand for a child I will blame this service more than the social workers for the increase in children removed from families, this is down to poor investigation, this had been reported in the CSSIW tri annual report on Cafcass Cymru as being poor in 52% of the cases that were investigated. Not very good for an awful lot of children now in a very harmful care system.

    I will not just make criticism as this has been going on for so long and not made one blind bit of difference in a system all know is failing, still nothing is done. To repair the system will take some very simple steps, first Cafcass Cymru must be more approachable and open their ears. Put in place an independent complaints service that is not just a time scale procedure that does not address complaints fairly. If you look at the statistics compared with the Ombudsman figurers you will instantly see there is a problem with complaints not being dealt with. Although Cafcass Cymru inform complainants that they can take matters to the Ombudsman, they do not inform them that the Ombudsman can not investigate complaints against Cafcass staff due to the restriction written into the Public Services Ombudsman Act 2005. Thus the complaint is never dealt with after Cafcass Cymru usually just dismiss it. 250 cases ending up with the Ombudsman in a year is just not acceptable. This has been called a social injustice by the law commission. Even the director of the Ombudsman had written to the Welsh Government to point out the injustice.

    Next, magic cure is , follow up cases periodicity over the next few years, this will be the best indicator for the reality of how things really are. In my case the Cafcass officer continually recommended the children live with their mother. The reasons I will not go into here but, the children did come to live with me their dad, if Cafcass had followed up my case they would have seen that to have placed the children with their mother as the officer wanted, this would have been detrimental for their welfare. I have spent 3 years trying to get a complaint dealt with fairly by Cafcass Cymru that has been dismissed unfairly. The attitude considering the evidence that supported my complaint would make it abundantly clear and the officer would learn from her mistakes. The fact is the Cafcass Cymru officer caused serious emotional harm to my 2 children that has to be noted.

    By follow up reports many future problems will be avoided, the service would have a better understanding. One final point, the CAWAC tool is absolute rubbish, there again follow up would inform you of this, I have strong evidence. Also The great Harold’s work has been criticised by others in his field that found errors in his research data.

    • Paul Apreda says:

      Hi Terry
      Thanks for your typically robust views – they are most welcome.
      I want to tackle just one of the points that you made – in relation to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales – with whom I met earlier this week at a WCVA Equalities meeting.
      They tell me that they are very open to a dialogue with them about these issues and pointed me to the legislation that could not proceeed in the last Seembly due to the election in May – but which would give the Ombudsman much wider powers to look at systemic failings in process on their own remit.

  4. Rob Cheyne says:

    These figures are frightening and indicate an organisation that has a knee-jerk reaction to glaring failures to protect children by implementing a carte-blanche policy of removing them. Social workers seem to be always looking for a simple panacea test they can apply to absolve them of making a considered professional judgement.

    I absolutely despair at the failings of local authority social workers, Cafcass and the family courts to even implement straight forward rules and procedures to properly act in the best interest of vulnerable children. Operating under a cloak of secrecy, ostensibly to protect vulnerable children, but ensure continued everyday failings and outdated prejudices go unreported.

    • Paul Apreda says:

      Hi Rob
      I recognise and understand your criticisms of the system. However, the view that social workers are some homogenous group that implement a carte blanche policy of removing children or who are searching for a simple panacea is I think overstated.
      Part of the problem is that social workers are never praised for keeping a child with their parents – or for ensuring that no harm comes to them. Rather they operate within a culture that is highly risk averse and they face real problems and dangers on a daily basis.
      Naturally parents who have had their children removed or who have had a bad experience with Children’s Services will be very angry about their treatment. I’m sad to say that I’ve seen many many instances of very poor practice by social workers, but what I’m interested in doing is finding a mechanism where we can have a robust and far reaching conversation about these isssues to try to find a way forward. Clearly, as the President has clearly stated, we cannot go on as we are

  5. Alex says:

    Perhaps is social workers went to jail for perjury and for shoddy work they might be a little less liable to cut and paste from previous cases, lie to the Judge and make off the cuff judgements. Furthermore the “risk of future emotional harm” is a complete joke. We are going to take your children because they might come to some emotional harm in the future. Meanwhile said children are cutting themselves, screaming, fighting at school and horribly angry at being removed from loving parents because a social worker thought there might be a problem. I’d be fascinated to know how many of the removed children came from homes where the Father was accused (but never found guilty and probably never even charged) of some form of DV by the Mother. An accusation seems to be all it takes for the Father to be banned from going near his children, should the parents then reconcile the children are removed. Perhaps we need more male social workers who are possibly more objective and not so riddled with hard core left wing political correctness, after all we NEED more female engineers right, so we must need more male teachers and male cishetero social workers….. Favourite quote from a social worker to date “We can put what we like in the file it is up to the Judge to decide if it is true”. SCUM.

    • JamesB says:

      Yes, cafcass lied in my case also. Saying I didn’t turn up for contact when they had seen a 100% turn up rate over a year. Their words were, well, if he hasn’t been turning up then that seems reasonable. Utter b*&^%ds. Also ignoring the children’s comments when they disagree with what they want to say (from discussing with children on what happened in meetings and with cafcass officer). Very upsetting how bad these POA Cafcass types are treating men as criminals for wanting what’s best for their children and to see their fathers. Seen many times, utterly biased and corrupt and not subject to decent checks on their usually very bad approaches.

  6. JamesB says:

    Perhaps people should require a license to have children. Like in the Starship Troopers film.

  7. JamesB says:

    By that I am not saying I agree in fascist dictatorships. I most strongly do not.

    The license to have children idea is a bad one upon thinking about it. A male pill would be a massive more positive significant improvement instead.

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