Referrals to children’s services could soar if private law changes being considered by the Family Justice Review are implemented, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has warned.
ADCS president Matt Dunkley told delegates at Community Care Live last week that the next phase of the family justice review – which is to investigate how safeguarding issues can be better identified in private law cases – could lead to increased caseloads for social workers, through “better coordination between private and public law”.
Dunkley said identifying more safeguarding issues in private law (such as acrimonious divorce proceedings) would be “good for the welfare of children”, but added: “This will inevitably result in more work for social workers because this isn’t currently a role that they do. If the review moves forward in this way some of the money saved from changes to public law will have to go towards funding this.”
In its interim report, published in March, the family justice review stated: “Serious child protection concerns are raised or come to light in a significant proportion of private law cases.
“Where there are concerns for the child’s safety or for a vulnerable adult, swift and decisive action must be taken to protect them. We intend in the coming months to investigate further this overlap between public and private law.”
An ADCS spokesperson said the Association was aware that some safeguarding concerns in private law cases do not come to light because of the pressure the entire family justice system is under.”Whilst there are mechanisms that link private law cases to safeguarding systems at present, they are often strained,” the spokesperson said.
A more comprehensive system would be “an important development and a positive step to promote the welfare and best interests of children in proceedings often dominated by the needs and behaviours of separating adults, who may chose not to disclose, or to hide, information that may raise safeguarding concerns”, the spokesperson said.
But she added: “If changes are to be made, it is essential that the consequences for safeguarding have been fully assessed, planned for and, if necessary, resourced. We know this could result in considerably more referrals to local authorities and would require robust workforce planning.”
The family justice review will publish its final report in the autumn.
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