The number of care applications made monthly by councils has fallen year-on-year for the first time in more than two years, new figures show.
Cafcass received 1,068 care applications in December 2016, a 3% reduction on the 1,103 received the same month in 2015. The last time year-on-year monthly figures fell was May 2014.
The number of applications fell between November and December 2016, the first time in three years this has happened.
Despite the drop, total care applications made between April to December are up 18.2% on the same period in 2014-15, and a third higher than 2013-14.
This means annual care demand looks likely to hit a record high for the third consecutive year and applications could surpass the 13,000 mark for the first time.
In September last year, the president of the family courts issued a warning the rising number of care cases meant the system was “at full stretch” and facing a “clear and imminent crisis”.