Senior childcare lawyer warns of pressures from “remorseless” rise in cases

A significant rise in public law children cases is putting more pressure on social workers and child care lawyers, all of whom are experiencing significant budgetary cutbacks, a senior local authority lawyer has warned.

The comments from Graham Cole, Principal Solicitor (Social Services) at Luton Borough Council and Lawyers in Local Government’s Specific Activity Area Lead for Children’s Services and Education, came after it emerged that the number of care applications received by Cafcass rose by 14% in 2015/16 to a record 12,741 applications. This compared to 11,159 such applications the previous year.

Cole said he suspected there were various reasons for the increase. “Numbers of cases do tend to vary from year to year but there does seem to be a remorseless upward trend in recent years and I do not think that that is likely to change.”

He pointed to a number of factors in play that were likely to remain in place. These included:

1. Continuing ‘fall out’ from the Baby P case and subsequent cases of child deaths which had received media attention. “This is causing a more ‘risk averse’ approach on the part of social workers.”

2. Increasing pressures on families – economic pressures, welfare changes, declining support services and so on. “There are some who consider that the standard of parenting is declining.”

3. Increasing numbers of cases coming through the pre-proceedings phase and now requiring court action.

4. Children’s services and other agencies getting better at detecting child abuse and neglect.

5. Increased judicial focus on local authorities’ use of section 20. “The President of the Family Division ‘advised’ local authorities in one of his recent judgments that the cases of all children accommodated under section 20 should be urgently reviewed. In some instances, some children have been accommodated too long under section 20 and local authorities are now bringing those cases into court.”

Cole said: “Local authorities face severe financial restrictions for the foreseeable future. Retention and recruitment of social workers and legal staff remains a serious problem.

“Those pressures are being exacerbated by the statutory requirement to complete care cases within 26 weeks and demands imposed by the judiciary to meet this statutory deadline.”

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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