Cafcass figures, children’s services and a software error: The last two weeks in family law

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for November 2015. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1,020 care applications, a 15% increase compared to those received in November 2014. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,462 new private law cases, which is a 12% increase on November 2014 levels.

Research by Lancaster University has revealed a “huge” rise in the number of new-born babies who are subject to care proceedings in England. Some 2,018 babies were involved in such cases in 2013, compared with 802 in 2008. About half were taken from mothers with other children in care – one woman had 16 children removed – and a third were from women who became mothers as teens. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has described the figures as “worrying”.

The Prime Minister has announced that poorly performing children’s services must improve or be taken over by high-performing authorities, experts and charities. The new plans are intended to mirror the approach taken with failing schools. Children’s services in local authorities that have persistently failed in the past will be taken over immediately. It was also announced that over £100m will be invested in attracting more high-calibre graduates into social work.

Police in England and Wales are on the verge of being “overwhelmed” by “staggering” increases in reports of domestic abuse, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Recorded cases rose 31% between 2013 and 2015, and this has led to “excessive” workloads and affected the quality and speed of investigations in some forces.

The National Audit Office (‘NAO’) has reported that absent parents owe nearly £4 billion in child support arrears. However, the NAO has warned that the actual figure could be even higher, because of “errors” in out of date systems still in use by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Relate, the relationships charity, has published a new report Breaking up is hard to do, aimed at “assisting families to navigate family relationship support before, during, and after separation”. The report calls for a national helpline and for a single point of access to support and information.

The Ministry of Justice (‘MoJ’) has published its latest quarterly statistics on activity in the family courts of England and Wales, for the period July to September 2015. Amongst the headlines were that the number of cases that started in family courts remains about the same as last year, that the average time for the disposal of a care or supervision application was 28 weeks (with 60% of such cases being disposed of within the 26 week ‘time limit’), that there has been a decrease in the timeliness for private law cases overall in the last year and that there has been a general upward trend in the number of applications for non-molestation domestic violence remedy orders since the end of 2012.

The MoJ also published its latest legal aid statistics, for July to September 2015. The headline finding in these statistics was that the number of mediation starts in that quarter rose by 19%, following the sharp fall after the introduction of LASPO in April 2013. The statistics also showed that almost half of all exceptional case funding applications (where legal aid would not normally be available) that had been determined were granted – the highest number and proportion of grants since the scheme began.

And finally, thousands of divorce settlements could be compromised due to a software error on the MoJ’s online Form E financial statement, used when parties are sorting out a financial settlement following divorce. Since the fault has, it seems, resulted in the miscalculation of couple’s assets, it is suggested that it may be necessary to re-open negotiations to rectify the mistakes. The MoJ has issued an advisory note which reads: “An error has been identified in the automatic calculations used in the version of the Form E (Financial Statement) available on the HMCTS Form Finder website. Form E is the means by which parties disclose information about their assets and liabilities. The current online version has been corrected. We are urgently investigating this issue and will be writing to anyone affected as soon as possible. Anyone concerned about their own court proceedings should contact formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.”