The news this week was dominated by stories concerning public law family issues, i.e. where the state intervenes in the upbringing of children. And it makes pretty grim reading too.
Firstly, research has revealed a significant variation in adoption rates across England. For example, in Southampton, which had the highest rate, almost one in 50 children were put up for adoption, whereas in Greenwich, an authority with a similar socioeconomic profile, it was less than one in 600. The findings come from Freedom of Information inquiries carried out by Professor Andy Bilson of the University of Central Lancashire. He focussed on two-year groups of children, those born in 2011-12 and that born 2006-7. Adoption is intended to take children out of care, because their chances of stability and success in education, and life, are better. However, in the 20 authorities where adoption rose over five years, the number of children in care had risen as well. Professor Bilson said that this was the exact opposite of what you’d expect and that it points instead to a difference in the way that children are being removed from parents. No doubt these findings will be investigated in detail.
Moving on, the Children’s Commissioner for England’s Office has published research into the levels of government spending on children between 2000 and 2020. Whilst the research showed that levels of spending have been broadly maintained over that time, it also revealed that mainstream and acute services, such as 4-16 education and support for children in care, were being protected at the expense of targeted preventative services. Almost half of spending on children’s services now goes on 73,000 children in the care system, while the other half must cover the remaining 11.7 million children in England. Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “This report paints a stark picture of the reality facing councils, who cannot keep providing this standard of support without being forced to take difficult decisions and cut back on early intervention services which help to prevent children entering the care system in the first place.” Quite.
Meanwhile, Cafcass has published its latest monthly figures for care applications and private law demand. Cafcass received 2,408 new care applications from April to May 2018. This is 7.4% (166 applications) higher than the same period in 2017 and 1% (23 applications) higher than the same period in 2016. The 1,302 applications received in May 2018 is the third highest monthly total on record and highest demand for the month of May since the records began. As to private law demand, Cafcass received 7,217 new private law cases during April and May 2018. This is 6.5% (440 cases) higher than the same period in 2017 and 8.8% (584 cases) higher than the same period in 2016. They received 3,704 new cases during May 2018, which is the third highest total for the month of May since the records began.
Which brings me neatly on to my final point. The ‘Care Crisis Review’, which considers how to address the ‘care crisis’, and explores the factors which have contributed to the number of children in care reaching record levels in 2017, has been launched. The review found that the system in is in crisis, overstretched by spiralling demand and diminishing resources, dominated by a suffocating culture of “shame and blame” in social work practice, and undermined by austerity cuts and rising poverty.
Speaking at the launch, soon-to-be President of the Family Division Lord Justice McFarlane said: “There may be a danger of the system slipping into the exercise of a broad benevolent discretion with courts accepting the need to help children who are generally in need, rather than strictly questioning whether the state of affairs for the particular child has indeed reached the level … sufficient to justify statutory orders.”
Echoing the Children’s Commissioner’s findings referred to above, he went on: “It may properly be said that we have reached a stage where the threshold for obtaining a public law court order is noticeably low, whereas, no doubt because of the current financial climate, the threshold for a family being able to access specialist support services in the community is conversely, very high.” Grim indeed.
Have a good weekend.