The 26 week timetable for care proceedings introduced in 2014 has halved their average length, new research reveals.
The target timescale was included in the Children and Families Act in order to discourage excessive delay and uncertainty for children who have been take into the care system following neglect or abuse. Previously care proceedings typically took longer than six months on average.
According to initial research led by the Universities of Bristol and East Anglia, the result has been a fall in the overall number of care and placement (adoption) orders made but an increase in special guardianship and supervision orders – a rebalancing which suggests social workers and family courts now make a greater effort to explore alternatives to full adoption.
This is the first in-depth analysis of the effects of the 26 week timetable. The report is based on more than 300 care cases from 2014 and 2015.
Other findings include the use of fewer external experts and a greater reliance placed on work carried out by local social workers and the designated children’s guardian. In addition, the involvement of magistrates in care proceedings has dropped sharply, from 60 per cent of cases in the year to 2010 to just 20 per cent today.
A second stage in the study will focus on the subsequent welfare of the affected children following placement with an adoptive family, foster carers or guardian.
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