Children, FDACs and court delays: The last week in family law

A young girl whose parents cannot care for her should be
brought up by a stranger rather than by her grandparents, a court has ruled. In the case C
(A child : care and a placement order)
, District Judge Graham Keating
decided that the girl, who was born in 2017, would be better placed in the care
of a friend of the girl’s mother, rather than her father’s parents, despite the
fact that the friend had never met the girl. He said: “How can it be right that
if a child cannot be cared for by her parents, she is placed with a stranger in
preference to her grandparents?  The
answer comes from a recognition that the strength of the blood relationship is
very powerful; however, it is not definitive.” Here, the grandparents lived
abroad and placing the girl with them could mean she loses her close
relationship with her mother, who lives in the UK. On the other hand, placing
her with the friend would mean that she could retain her relationship with her
mother. Accordingly, he made a special guardianship order in favour of the
friend.

A group of private backers has agreed to fund the
problem-solving Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (‘FDACs’), which help parents
deal with drug or alcohol addiction, so that their children are not taken into
care. Last year the national unit set up to support the courts shut down due to
lack of government funding. The group has pledged £280,000 to fund a new
national partnership to support and extend the model, and seek long term government
funding. FDACs have been extremely successful, with research indicating that
families receiving FDAC are significantly more likely than families in standard
care proceedings to be reunited with their children, and for the parents to
have ceased misusing substances.

A toddler was left with life-long injuries after East Riding
of Yorkshire Council missed opportunities to protect him from his mother’s
violent partner, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has
found. The case was brought to the Ombudsman by the boy’s father and
grandmother, after a council investigation, which concluded the council had
acted appropriately, took 76 weeks too long to complete. The Ombudsman’s
investigation found the council missed opportunities to protect the toddler
from harm, and when concerns were raised it did not have a plan to check on the
children’s welfare or whereabouts. The council also disregarded a Court Order
in respect of the mother and the toddler’s older sibling’s contact arrangements.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “This sad case
highlights the need for councils to follow the basic principles of child
protection when dealing with welfare concerns. While the council did not cause
the boy’s injuries, his family have been left not knowing whether they could
have been prevented had social workers acted appropriately. Throughout the
process the council has denied any responsibility for checking on the
children’s whereabouts or welfare, and instead sought to blame others –
including the children’s grandmother. I am pleased the council has now accepted
the findings of my report and hope that by referring the case to a Serious Case
Review Panel lessons can be learned to prevent an event like this happening
again.”

And finally, figures obtained from HM Courts and Tribunals Service
(‘HMCTS’) by the Law Society Gazette
have revealed that delays at the country’s biggest regional divorce centre at
Bury St Edmunds reached unprecedented levels in 2018. The figures showed that
it took 373 days on average from the issue of a divorce petition to decree
absolute in 2018, a 9% increase from 2017. They also revealed that the
eight-day wait for issuing a petition has more than doubled in a year, while
the average time from issuing of a petition to decree nisi has increased by 17%,
to an average of 195 days. HMCTS told the Gazette
that since the figures were recorded staff numbers at the centre had been
increased, as a result of which performance has improved.