Care order referrals to Cafcass remain at “unprecedentedly high levels” in the wake of the Baby P case and look likely to stabilise at record highs, according to the family courts body’s latest quarterly figures.
Cafcass received referrals from 2,185 section 31 care applications from October to December 2009, up 21% on the same quarter in 2008, while care demand rose by 46% from April through to December 2009, compared with the same period in 2009.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said it was now “universally acknowledged that the record increases in care demand have placed massive pressure on all agencies working in the child protection system”.
This pressure has led to complaints of “soaring workloads, management bullying and low morale” from trade union Napo, which represents family courts staff. Following threats of strike action by Napo, Cafcass and the family courts union issued a joint statement on workloads last month in which Cafcass acknowledged it was “not in control of the peaks and troughs in demand for services”.
“Initially we struggled to manage this sudden rise in our total caseload,” said Douglas. However, he said Cafcass was beginning to manage the problem and had so far reduced unallocated care cases from 986 at the end of August 2009 to 497 at 11 January 2010, due to interim guidance from the president of the High Court’s family division and the publication of Cafcass’s revised operating priorities.
The rise in care applications has also led to more demand for adopters and foster carers. Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey said: “The increase in referrals is resulting in an urgent call on expenditure, and the government must find the funds.”
Care applications began to soar following the first court case, in November 2008, into the death of Baby P (Peter Connolly). In December 2008, Cafcass received 719 care applications compared with 496 in October 2008 – before news of Peter’s death was reported in the media.
The 787 care applications received in June 2009 remain the highest on record since Cafcass began compiling care statistics in 2005, and represented an increase of 113% on the June 2008 figure of 368.
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