Cafcass has revealed that the increase in care order applications to the family courts in the wake of the baby Peter case shows no sign of slowing, with July’s total just below the record high of June.
July’s figure brings the total for the first third of the 2009-10 financial year to 2,826, almost 75% higher than the same period last year, and averages out at 707 per month, compared with 408 over the same time last year.
As well as increasing cost pressures on Cafcass, the rise in applications is hitting local authorities, who have been responsible for paying court fees of up to £4,825 per case since May 2008, up from £150.
Cafcass family court advisers ensure the rights of children are represented in care cases.
Care summit planned
Cafcass, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services plan a joint summit later in the year to discuss the trends in care applications and the impact on children and families.
Almost half of section 31 applications take more than 50 working weeks to make their way through the family courts, and figures from Her Majesty’s Courts Service showed both county courts and family proceedings courts failed last year to hit key targets for the time it takes to complete cases.
Section 31 applications started to increase steeply in December 2008, the month after Tracey Connelly, Steven Barker and Jason Owen were convicted for causing or allowing baby Peter’s death.
Impact on frontline social work
As well as the impact on Cafcass and the courts, there are concerns over the effect of the increase in court proceedings on social workers’ ability to do preventive work.
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers, said frontline staff reported they were “working around the clock, seven days a week and taking work home at weekends” to deal with the increase in their workload caused by the rise in care applications.
“Cases in court take absolute priority,” she says. “That leaves real worries if enough is being done to safeguard other children that need support from social workers.”