Government enforces strict time limit on care cases

Additional resources will be needed to reduce delays in the already-overstretched adoption system, the British Association of Social Workers warns.

Proposals to speed up the adoption system and place a six-month time limit on care proceedings will form part of new legislation unveiled in the Queen’s speech today.

The new children and families bill will also require councils to cut the adoption waiting time for children from ethnic minorities by putting less emphasis on finding adoptive parents from a similar background.

Ministers confirmed in February that they would introduce a statutory six-month limit on care cases by 2013 after the Family Justice Review found “shocking delays” in the current system, with proceedings taking 13 months on average to complete.

However, Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said it was “hard to conceive” how this target could be met without additional resources, particularly at a time when cuts to children’s services are driving up referrals to child protection services and care applications.

“This is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken as we risk a meltdown of the system and, ultimately, vulnerable children being failed by services that are supposed to protect them,” she warned.

Other reforms to the family justice system will include:

  • Making it clear that case management decisions should be made only after impacts on the child have been considered
  • Removing the requirement for interim care and supervision orders to be renewed every month
  • Requiring courts to consider the impact of delay on the child when commissioning expert evidence

The children and families bill will also give more power to the Children’s Commissioner for England, the Queen said at the state opening of parliament, including the power to carry out assessments of the impact of policies and legislation on children.

Draft legislation to overhaul the social care system will be published later this year and a bill presented to Parliament in 2013.

Inform subscribers, find out more: Guide to what to expect from the court process – A guide for professionals

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