Children in care, domestic abuse, and child maintenance: The last week in family law

The number of children taken into care has pushed 88% of
councils over budget in the last financial year, according to analysis by the
Guardian newspaper and the Local Government Association (‘LGA’). The analysis
found that 133 out of 152 councils responsible for children’s services
overspent in 2017-18. Local authorities went over budget on children’s social
care by an estimated £807 million, by far the highest area of overspending in
council budgets. The number of children being taken into care stands at a
10-year high of 75,420, having increased every year since 2008, when the total
was about 60,000. Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, Councillor
Anntoinette Bramble, said that the budget figures should act as a wake-up call
to “the country-wide crisis we are facing in funding services to protect
vulnerable children and young people”. She went on: “The fact that the
overwhelming majority of councils are now being forced to spend more than they
had planned to on children’s social care highlights the urgent need for the
government to provide new and long-term significant funding for children’s
services.”

The law must recognise children as victims of domestic abuse
between parents, the NSPCC has said. Department for Education figures for
2017/18 show domestic abuse was a factor in 246,720 child protection
assessments across England – more than half of all child protection
assessments, where factors were identified, during that period. The government
are yet to publish the outcomes of last year’s consultation on domestic abuse.
Their proposed new definition of domestic abuse only refers to the effects of
abuse on those aged 16 and over, leaving younger children unrecognised by the
justice system. The charity says that legal recognition would give children
greater protection through domestic abuse protection orders, help professionals
take action to protect children at risk, and help authorities ensure there are
specific support services for children and young people. Almudena Lara, Head of
Policy at the NSPCC, said: “It is quite astonishing that the government is
dragging its feet when deciding whether to recognise young people as victims
when almost a quarter of a million children that we know of are living with
domestic abuse in England alone. As well as the day-to-day distress that living
with domestic abuse creates, it can cause long-term problems into adulthood
that can only be addressed through targeted services that understand the
complex trauma children living with domestic abuse experience. For this to be
done effectively we need government to open their eyes to the harm domestic
abuse has on children and give them victim status in the upcoming White Paper to
ensure they receive the services they need.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law
demand, for December 2018, have been published by the Children and Family Court
Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the
interests of children involved in family proceedings. In that month the service
received a total of 975 new care applications. This figure is 4.6% (47
applications) lower than December 2017 – the first time it has dipped below the
1000 mark in more than three years. As to private law demand, Cafcass received
a total of 3,105 new cases during
December 2018. This is 13.1% (360 cases) higher than December 2017, and the second
highest December figure on record.

And finally, the Department for Work and Pensions has
launched a consultation seeking views on changes to the powers the Child
Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) use to calculate child maintenance and enforce
payments. The proposals in the consultation seek to strengthen the current
child maintenance scheme, which was introduced in 2012. The CMS has a range of
powers to obtain information necessary to ensure child maintenance liabilities
can be accurately calculated and, where necessary, enforced. The consultation
seeks views on changes to two particular aspects of these powers: qualifying a
CMS inspector’s ability to enter private property and widening of the current
list of organisations with a legal obligation to provide information following
a request by the CMS. The consultation period began on the 14th of
January, and runs until the 11th of February.