Family courts plans ‘risk miscarriages of justice’

Social workers and children's guardians have condemned "nonsensical" government plans for a six-month limit on care cases, warning the deadline could lead to miscarriages of justice.

Social workers and children’s guardians have condemned “nonsensical” government plans for a six-month limit on care cases, warning the deadline could lead to miscarriages of justice.

The new six-month limit on care and adoption cases was confirmed in the government’s response to the family justice review, published on Monday.

Announcing the changes, children’s minister Tim Loughton said the deadline should send a clear signal to professionals that ministers “want to see radical improvement”.

“Speeding up the court system, and getting earlier decisions about a child’s future, will help ensure that more children are found loving homes more quickly,” he said.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, told Community Care the government’s plans were setting social workers up to fail.

“It is incredulous that, in a climate of austerity where the mantra is ‘more for less’, we are expecting an already overstretched and beleaguered workforce to somehow work miracles in reducing delays in cases.

“It is nonsensical. But worse than that, this will set practitioners up to fail and will lead to more children being let down rather than protected.,” she said.

She said the limit was also “a million miles away” from the report Professor Eileen Munro produced for government on fronline child protection practice.

“The Munro report espouses a learning culture, as opposed to a blame culture, and the removal of arbitrary and unnecessary targets that curtail practice rather than empower it to effect positive change,” Mansuri said.
Alison Paddle, a family court guardian and former chair of guardians body Nagalro, also criticised the limit, warning it is not in children’s best interests and will need significant extra resources to make it workable.

“There will be miscarriages of justice if decisions are made because of an arbitrary time limit, and not because the evidence and good plans are in place.

“Social workers and guardians will be criticised when unrealistic deadlines are not met, but it is the children who will suffer when wrong decisions are made. Pressures on social workers can mean they make decisions without time to undertake sufficient assessment,” she said.

She added: “The government shows a touching faith in the capacity of local authorities when evidence shows their performance is extremely variable.”

The government intends to legislate for the limit as soon as possible. Ministers will expect cases to be completed sooner than six months, where possible, but there will be flexibility to extend complex cases if it is genuinely in a child’s best interests.

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