WHAT IS THE PUBLIC LAW OUTLINE?
The Public Law Outline will replace the existing Protocol for Judicial Case Management in Public Law Children Act Cases. Like the protocol, the outline will control the conduct of care proceedings.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE OLD PROTOCOL?
The recent review of care proceedings concluded that they take too long. On average, in care centres, it takes 51 weeks from application to care order.
WHAT ARE THE PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS?
We cannot yet say for certain. Pilot schemes are under way and evaluation of those will determine the final outline.
However, a flavour of the likely impact is provided by the pilot arrangements. A key objective is to reduce delay.
Accordingly, we can expect a requirement for better preparation of care order applications and even stricter case management by judges. The aim is that, ordinarily, no more than 40 weeks should elapse between application and final hearing.
The outline will also have a bearing more generally on social work practice. It will probably stress that care orders should not be applied for unless alternative care options (including kinship care) have been considered and rejected as unsuitable, and a core assessment completed.
WHEN WILL THE CHANGES START?
For care order applications made after April 2008. However, the associated government guidance is planned for the end of this year. This is intended to give authorities the opportunity to modify their practices so that they are outline-compliant by April 2008.
ISN’T THIS BEING RUSHED?
The government says not. Others such as Baaf, however, have expressed serious reservations as to whether local authorities are being given sufficient time to prepare for the changes.
Compiled by Ed Mitchell, general editor of Social Care Law Today and Community Care’s legal expert.