Shorter family court proceedings are improving the stability of care placements, a study has found.
The University of East Anglia research found a drastic reduction in the length of care proceedings had helped a group of local authorities reach resolutions more quickly, reduced the number of moves a child made after the placement and reduced the length of the post-court period.
Commissioned by Cafcass and the Department for Education, the study analysed the long-term impact of a 2013 pilot scheme testing the 26-week timeline in the Tri-Borough councils. The experience of a ‘pre-pilot cohort’ of 131 children was compared with 125 children who went through the quicker proceedings.
The 26-week Public Law Outline timeline for care proceedings was introduced in 2013, before being made statutory in 2014. Since 2011, the average length of care proceedings has halved from 56 weeks to 28 weeks nationally.
“In addition to reaching resolutions more quickly, the pilot cohort had seen a reduction in the number of moves that children experienced while waiting for the resolution to be reached,” the research report found.
“Provided the children are in a safe and suitable placement, this is a welcome development, since both lengthy periods in temporary care and multiple moves are likely to add to a child’s sense of insecurity.”
Researchers also noted a reduction in the post and pre-court periods, with the average length of time between a legal planning meeting and permanent placement falling from 96 to 52 weeks.
The average amount of time it took to move to a permanent placement post-proceedings fell from 30 to 14 weeks for children who went through shorter proceedings, the research said. Less time spent in court also did not result in more children living being taken into care.
“There is widespread interest in ensuring that proceedings are brought in appropriate cases, conducted in a fair, thorough and timely manner, and that the outcomes are as beneficial as possible for the children,” Jonathan Dickens, one of the researchers, said.
“It is not easy to satisfy all these requirements but our findings show that it is possible to reconcile these demands. Shorter care proceedings do not necessarily mean that delay is squeezed to either side of the proceedings.”
He warned however that the new way of working brought “extra pressures” on social workers.
“These are encouraging results, but there are things to watch out for,” Dickens said.