Thursday, 3 November 2011

Delays in the Family Courts

I was impressed with Sanchia Berg’s article on David Norgrove’s call for a six-month deadline for care proceedings in the family courts (

According to Berg, judges defend lengthy proceedings on the grounds that they need to scrutinise the work of social workers. Judges told her about many cases where the local authority had not handled cases well, requiring the court to intervene. Thus delays, although undesirable, are inevitable.

Norgrove, she says, hopes that the Munro reforms will result in higher standards of social work, which will give judges more confidence. The detail of case planning can then be left to social workers, with judges left free to concentrate on the issue of whether the children should be made subject to a care order.

This account neatly encapsulates the ‘chicken and egg’ nature of this problem. And it sits well with what we know about the long-standing problems of child protection services in Britain: staff and skills shortages and social workers overburdened with bureaucracy. Paradoxically under-resourcing local authority children’s services, and deskilling social workers, results in work being displaced to the courts where it is processed at much greater cost.

I am very worried about David Norgrove’s recommendation for a six month time limit on care proceedings. Unless this is phased with real and measurable progress on implementing Munro’s reforms, the likelihood is that uncertainties, which are currently being resolved at length in the family courts, will be simply re-exported to unprepared children’s services departments where they will receive even less satisfactory attention. Inevitably children will suffer.