Family court advisers can reduce care proceedings by three weeks if they are involved before cases go to court, research from Northumbria University has found.
Cases averaged 23.5 weeks when family court advisers were involved before the case went to court, as opposed to 26.1 weeks when families did not have an adviser pre-proceedings.
The pilot study in Liverpool introduced court advisers to cares cases before proceedings began, known as Cafcass PLUS samples. This produced similar findings to an earlier pilot carried out in Coventry and Warwickshire.
Social workers feel more confident
In total, 26 cases were studied, 11 of which involved the work of a family court adviser. Over half of cases with an adviser ended with support for the children to remain with their families, while only 40% of cases without an adviser did.
“The family court adviser ensures that the child has an independent voice within child protection practice at the pre-proceedings stages,” explained Kim Holt, head of the department of social work and communities at Northumbria University.
Social workers confirmed how the increased time spent with families during pre-proceedings work meant they felt more confident when presenting evidence in court, Holt said.
“There is unequivocal support that the advisers were able to provide a head start, with fewer requests for additional reports and more emphasis placed on the social work assessment,” Holt said.
Cafcass chief Anthony Douglas said it is time to consider how these pilots could be a “mainstream service”. “We can clearly make a difference either to help prevent unnecessary sets of proceedings or for applications to be more thought through,” Douglas said.
“Working with 152 local authorities in England, each with different issues, makes this a complex service to roll out. It is likely we will continue to customise our service to the local situation.”