Duration of care proceedings found to be 10 weeks over 26-week target
The average length of care proceedings rose to 10 weeks over the 26-week target following the coronavirus lockdown, despite a 4% fall in the total number of cases.
Family Court statistics from April to June 2020 show that the average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 36 weeks, up 3 weeks from the same period last year. Just 34% of cases were finalised within the 26-week target -- down 7% compared to the same period in 2019.
Average care proceeding length has been rising since 2016, after the 26-week target was enacted into law in the Children and Families Act 2014.
Commenting on the statistics Sara Tough, Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee, said:
“Local authorities and the courts have made good progress in improving the timeliness of care proceedings, down from an average of 50 weeks in 2011 to 26 weeks in 2016. Although average times have since lengthened it is important to recognise the distance travelled; we are performing better for children now than we were nine years ago.
"Several things have impacted on timescales, for example, the number of cases has increased as has the complexity, and delays can also be caused by assessments that must be completed for family members who emerge once proceedings are already underway. When considering these statistics we must take into account the significant disruption to the work of the courts as a result of the pandemic; in person hearings were largely unavailable for the period covered and remote hearings often take longer and are not well suited to complex, contested hearings, therefore, the data may not represent general trends in the family court system.
“The Public Law Outline has benefitted children and families in terms of reducing unnecessary drift and delay in the system, but our main aim should always be meeting the individual needs of a child or young person, even if this falls outside of the 26 week limit.
“The significant increase in numbers of domestic violence remedy order applications between April to June is concerning, however, it is reassuring that there has also been an increase in the number of orders granted by the courts to protect victims. That said, domestic abuse is the most common reason children and families come to the attention of children’s social care, the Domestic Abuse Bill must go further to prevent it from occurring in the first place.”