Cafcass figures, FGM and adoption reform: The last week in family law

Quarterly statistics on the progress of the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) case closure programme, from June 2014 when it began to December 2015, have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The programme aims to ensure that by the end of 2017 all child maintenance cases will be governed by the current Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) 2012 scheme. There were nearly 852,000 cases with a CSA liability due to be closed before case closure began. Of those, over half have now started the case-closure process, and 279,000 of these have had their CSA liability ended. Of the closed cases, 13% have now applied to the CMS. Finally, as of December 2015, the overall CSA caseload had decreased from 1.5 million to 1.3 million.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for April 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,221 care applications, which is a 28% increase compared to those received in April 2015. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,557 new private law cases, which is a 24% increase on April 2015 levels.

The Home Office and Karen Bradley MP have issued an updated female genital mutilation (‘FGM’) resource pack containing guidance, case studies and support materials for local authorities, professional services and specialist voluntary organisations. FGM is illegal in the UK. Anyone who commits FGM faces up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both. Anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from risk of FGM faces up to 7 years in prison, a fine, or both. The resource pack features information on legislation, case studies where FGM has been experienced by girls and women in the UK, information on what local authorities can do to raise awareness of FGM in their local area and safeguard children, and links to support organisations, clinics and helplines that can help people who think they might be at risk.

The government is to pass new laws to encourage adoption, in a bid to improve the chances of children in social care in England, David Cameron has said. In an interview with the Sunday Times he said that the government would legislate to encourage permanent adoption, even if it meant children were not placed with relatives. He said he was “unashamedly pro-adoption” and criticised courts and social workers for favouring “less stable placements” with distant relatives, rather than with adoption families. “We will legislate to tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child – even when that means overriding family ties”, he wrote. He went on: “For too long, whether through misguided notions of what is right or sensitivities about not wanting to cause offence, we have let the most vulnerable in our country down. That needs to change.”

And finally, a High Court judge has ruled that personal information that a “very vulnerable” 15-year-old boy shared with a social worker should be withheld from his parents, in line with his wishes and to avoid damaging his relationship with professionals. Mrs Justice Roberts was told that the boy, who is the subject of care proceedings, did not want the “very private matters” to be shared with his father and stepmother. The boy’s father argued disclosure was required to meet his rights to a fair trial, as he wished to use the information in the care proceedings, but the boy’s social worker and guardian argued that the child’s relationships with professionals may be damaged by disclosure of information he wished to keep private. The local authority asked the court for a decision, and Mrs Justice Roberts found there was a “compelling” case for non-disclosure of the information and said it was “entirely necessary” that the boy’s “confidence and privacy in this information is maintained”. She also found the information the boy wished to be kept private had “very little, if any” relevance to the forthcoming care proceedings, and therefore dismissed the father’s claim that the information was required for a fair trial.