New targets set for care proceedings

Targets for speeding up care proceedings for looked-after children
have been launched by the new Department for Constitutional Affairs
(DCA), formerly the Lord Chancellor’s Department.

It has issued a protocol to try to reduce judicial case management
to 40 weeks. Under the present system care proceedings in Wales and
south east and south west England can take more than a year to

The lengthy timescale, often caused by delays in the legal process,
can lead to looked-after children being moved to numerous care
placements and increased uncertainty.

The protocol sets out the procedures all parties in the process
should take and the timescale for doing them in. Included in this
is the goal of appointing a children’s guardian within 48 hours of
a care application being lodged by a local authority.

A shortage of guardians in some areas has exacerbated the delays in
the system, with some children having to wait up to three months to
be allocated a guardian. Before the Children and Family Court
Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) was established last year,
guardians were usually appointed within 24 hours.

The MP Clive Soley, who sat on the DCA’s select committee that
recently investigated Cafcass’s performance, said the target had to
be realistic and take into account the complexities of the system.

But he warned that the aim should be to appoint guardians within a
day. The target “shouldn’t be worse than the one that existed
before Cafcass”, he said.

Cafcass said the timescales in the new protocol – to be introduced
in November – were “achievable and desirable”.

The protocol follows lengthy consultation with Cafcass, the
Department of Health, Association of Directors of Social Services
and legal organisations.

– Protocol for Judicial Case Manage-ment in Public Law Children
Act Cases

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