Harman launches proposals to improve systems for taking children into care

Government ministers have announced new proposals designed to ensure that the welfare of children is at the heart of the processes involved in taking a child into care.

“Review of the Child Care Proceedings System in England and Wales” was published today by Constitutional Affairs Minister, the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP and parliamentary under secretary of state for children and families, Parmjit Dhanda MP.

The review puts forward recommendations of how to improve the current system of taking a child into care.

Many cases resulting in unnecessary delays and complex proceedings have proved difficult for many children and families to understand. The review encourages early intervention to find ways of avoiding court cases where possible and to identify ways to improve the quality of local authority applications for those cases that do proceed to court.

Reccomendations from the review include:

* Local authorities should write in plain English to the family and give the reasons for applying to court to take the children into care and provide a copy of the interim care plan.

* Authorities should enable families to get independent legal advice earlier by provision of contact details for local Children Panel solicitors.

* All safe and appropriate alternatives should be explored before court proceedings are started. In some cases this might include placement with other family members, or providing support through Family Group Conferences to discuss all aspects of the family situation

* Guidance and best practice on case preparation should be written up in one document and used by all local authorities

* Local authorities should ensure that they follow statutory guidance and ensure cases are ready for proceedings before applications are made.

* Case management in the courts should be improved

* Work should be carried out on whether joint targets and funds could encourage closer working relationships, joint planning and shared priorities between the various agencies involved.

A ministerial group chaired by Harriet Harman will meet to ensure the review delivers the intended results and oversee implementation.

Harman said: “These children and families are among the most vulnerable in society. We have to have a system that takes care of their needs promptly and fairly and puts them at its heart. Too often avoidable delays occur in the courts because applications have not been prepared properly, or because there is weak case management during court proceedings.

“The ministerial group will ensure these proposals are followed to improve the system so that children who may need to be taken into care have the best outcome possible. We also need to help families follow proceedings at what is a distressing time,” she concluded.

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