Better identification and assessment of the impact of neglect on children are behind the sustained rise in care applications this year with Cafcass reporting a further 9% increase in cases between April and June compared with the same time last year.
Figures have jumped more than 40% since the middle of 2008, causing the family justice system to buckle under the strain.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said the only credible explanation was that the threshold for taking children with long-term neglect was lowered in 2008 and that it had remained consistent.
“I think the threshold is at the right level, our assessments have got stronger and we should be taking these children into care. Unfortunately, there are not as many solutions for their subsequent care as needed, such as long-term therapeutic foster or adoptive care,” he said.
Cafcass also released statistics showing that, in three regions of England – in the North West, parts of the Midlands and in Greater London – children are waiting well over a year, on average, for their cases to be processed.
This is despite Cafcass having reduced its backlog and number of unallocated cases. Douglas blamed the delays on a shortage of experts and limited availability of court dates.
“It means that the 843 care applications made during June are coming into a system that is at or over capacity,” he said. “We had a case recently where it took 10 months to get a viability assessment because of the lack of availability of experts. That is an extreme case but a six-month wait is not extreme.
“You can say that we need to cut back on the use of experts but the reality is that many of these cases are complex and they do need specialist paediatric or mental health input.”
An interim report from the Family Justice Review recently recommended that the courts strive to process all cases within six months. However, Douglas said that timeframe was looking unrealistic.
“It might be able to be achieved in those cases that can be fast tracked by following some of the principles of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court,” he said. “But even the best-performing areas are seeing average waits of 44 weeks to progress a case. To get that down to 26 would be a monumental achievement and there are others that are looking at an average of 65 weeks.”
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