In 2016, James Munby made a statement about the Family Courts facing a ‘huge crisis’ over a rise in the number of care applications being made.
“If… the current rate of increase of [around] 20% were to continue for the next three years, by 2019-20 the figure would have climbed to over 25,000,” Munby said. “In the meantime – today – we face a clear and imminent crisis.” Munby continued to state that he does not believe that child abuse/neglect is rising by 20%, so this cannot be the sole explanation behind the significant rise in applications.
Earlier this month and triggered by Munby’s statement, The Nuffield Foundation and the Family Rights Group published the ‘Care Crisis Review: options for change’ report, based on an intensive research programme, conducted over seven months. The aim of the report was to identify factors contributing to the rise in care proceedings and children in care, and to suggest solutions at practice, organisational and system levels.
The report stated that there are many overlapping factors, which are complex and difficult to disentangle, that are contributing to the increasing number of children entering care and care proceedings. These include socio-economic factors, issue with legal and policy frameworks, issues with professional practice and tensions in the system.
In his emergency statement, Munby made it clear that standards should not be sacrificed in order to handle more cases. “The fact is that, on the ground, the system is – the people who make the system work are – at full stretch. We cannot, and I have for some time now been making clear that I will not, ask people to work harder. Everyone – everyone – is working as hard as they can.”
To summarise the report, there were two main findings:
- Relationship building within and between agencies, within families, and between families and practitioners is and should be the key to good practice. This is because the review evidence, and broader research, underline that relationships lie at the heart of successful developments in practice.
- There is a significant untapped resource that exists for children in and on the edge of care, which is their wider family and the local community. A recurring theme of the review was the value of making and taking early opportunities to engage with a child’s family: to enable family members to help keep children safe at home with parents or current carers, to offer respite care arrangements, to begin the process of being assessed as potential long-term or permanent carers for children, and to support those who do go into care for a short or longer period.
As a result of the research, the report proposes twenty options for change, including the following:
Before Care Proceedings
- Relationship-based practice – it is agreed throughout the report that relationships with practitioners is of extreme importance to children and families, as these encounters sow the seeds for either positive or negative working partnerships. This is seen as especially important when people have good reason to view services with suspicion or hostility.
- Making family resources work better for children – contributors to the report strongly agreed that families remain an untapped resource for children. The report highlighted the importance of taking advantages of early opportunities to engage with a child’s family.
During Care Proceedings
- Timescales in Care Proceedings – whilst it was agreed that many cases should and could be completed within the 26 week timescale, it was also discussed that the overly rigid nature of the approach to applying a timescale could have negative implications, relating to lack of time for alternative carers to be assessed and for parents to evidence their capacity to change. It was suggested that a more flexible approach to timescales could have better long term outcomes for children and families, and reduce the number of cases coming back into the system.
- Considering the long term stability of children – it was discovered that there are differences between family justice areas and the types of orders made at final hearings, resulting in children from some areas of the country going into care proceedings more often than children from other areas. This variation has been identified as an area needing further research and consideration.
After Care Proceedings
- Placements with family and friends, unrelated carers and adoptive parents – the report highlighted the need for support to be offered to family and friend carers in a similar manner to the support offered to other carers. It was suggested that family and friends carers are granted the right to a period of paid leave, as adopters are entitled to, to help a child settle in with them.
- Working with parents – it is clear from the report that local authorities wish to be able to provide more support to birth parents who have lost the care of their children. It was agreed that support should be provided to interrupt the devastating cycles of trauma, deprivation and removal that are evident within the care system.
You can read the full report by clicking here.