Child support, advocates for children and a funding crisis: The last two weeks in family law

The latest quarterly statistics on the progress of the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) child support schemes, to June 2018, have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. As the statistical bulletin explains, in 2012 the Child Maintenance Service was created to replace the CSA, and cases managed by the CSA are being closed, with all new applications for child maintenance now being dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service. The statistics state that there were 806,200 cases managed by the CSA, and this continues to fall as the CSA closes its cases through the Case Closure process. Just 3,700 of the total caseload still have a current liability, and these cases are due to have their liability ended through the Case Closure process. Between July 2017 and June 2018, the CSA collected £96m of child maintenance and £38m of this was arrears. In the same period an estimated £25m of child maintenance was arranged direct between parents. Again, these figures continue to fall as cases are closed on the CSA.

The release of the film The Children Act, which explores the case of a young man who needs a blood transfusion but his parents object as they are Jehovah’s Witnesses, has prompted a call from the children’s charity Coram for the mandatory provision of independent advocates for children. Kamena Dorling, group head of policy and public affairs at Coram, said: “This country has a strong legal framework for the protection and support of children and young people, but if they are unable actually to enforce their rights then those rights are worth little more than the paper they are written on. Key decisions about a child’s future can be made without their views being put forward, or all the relevant information being considered. Coram believes that in all important decisions concerning children (which are made by public bodies or a judicial processes), children should have an appropriate opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.”

A mother in Northern Ireland should be entitled to widowed parent’s allowance following the death of her partner, despite not being married to him, the Supreme Court has held. Siobhan McLaughlin was originally denied the allowance, because she had not been married to her late partner John Adams, who died in 2014. She successfully challenged the decision in the High Court in Belfast, but a subsequent government challenge to that ruling was upheld in the Court of Appeal. Ms McLaughlin then appealed to the Supreme Court. Last week the Supreme Court allowed the appeal, and made a declaration that the current rule that the widowed parent can only claim the allowance if he or she was married to or the civil partner of the deceased is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It is now up to the Northern Ireland legislature to decide whether or not the law should be changed.

And finally, it has been reported that the government is facing demands from local authorities for emergency funds to protect thousands of vulnerable children, after figures revealed that last year alone councils in England had to spend £816m more on children’s social care than they had budgeted for. Senior local government figures are warning that children’s services are reaching a tipping point as the numbers needing help continue to grow and budgets continue to shrink. Conservative MP and former children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “It is really worrying that the pressure on children’s social care has not received the attention that it really deserves. For years, local authorities have tried to protect spending on vulnerable children, only too mindful of tragic cases like Baby P, but finances are so stretched that in many authorities it is hard to see how that will continue. There is a very real worry that it is only a matter of time before vulnerable children hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons again and we have echoes of some of the really tragic cases of the past.”