Family court budget cuts threatens children’s welfare

Proposed changes to the way children are taken into care by family courts are driven by budget cuts and could worsen the situation for vulnerable children, according to the National Association of Guardians Ad Litem and Reporting Officers.

NAGALRO, a professional association for practitioners concerned with the representation of children in both public and private court proceedings, was commenting on the Department for Constitutional Affairs’ announcement last week that child care proceedings would be “streamlined”.

Harriet Harman, minister of state for constitutional affairs, announced the proposals in the Review of Child Care Proceedings last week.

Harman said: “These children and their families are among the most vulnerable in society. We have to have a system that takes care of their needs promptly and fairly. “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.”

But Nagalro claimed the review was driven by a desire to make savings. Alison Paddle, Nagalro chairperson, said: “Adequate resources and skilled professionals must be in place or else we will see delays in providing safety for children simply being shifted around the system.

“Vulnerable children too often suffer from the failings of under-resourced and poorly performing local authorities. The review’s recommendations may worsen the situation for some children if court protection is delayed because the paperwork is not in order.”

Paddle also warned that there were no recommendations for recognising children’s rights to separate representation and advice at the earliest stage. She said: “Children will be put at risk if important decisions about their futures are made without their separate interests being properly protected before proceedings begin.”

In a speech about the family court system on Monday, Harman said that demands on the criminal legal aid budget was squeezing the civil and family legal aid budget. “We want to ensure, for the sake of families and children, that cases do not come to court unless they have to,” she said.

“Our concern is to get our spending back within our budget and redistribute legal aid from criminal to family and civil.”

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