Child support, domestic abuse and babies in care: The last week in family law

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its
latest quarterly summary of statistics for the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’),
for the period April to June 2019. The CSA was set up in 1993 and in 2012 the
Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) was created to replace it. The closure of the
CSA is progressing and all on-going liabilities have ended. A number of CSA
cases remain which have historical debt built up under the CSA schemes and some
of these cases have been moved onto the CMS IT systems. This remaining debt is
being addressed by offering a final chance at collection where this is possible
at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer. The main stories in the statistics
included that the CSA caseload continues to reduce. The number of CSA cases
held on CSA or CMS IT systems decreased from 472,700 in March 2019 to 260,900
in June 2019. The reduction in caseload is due to the closure of cases in
accordance with the child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy. The CSA
historical debt balance continues to reduce. The amount of CSA debt held on CSA
or CMS IT systems has decreased from £2,040 million in March 2019 to £915
million in June 2019. Debt owed to Government and debt which has no reasonable
chance of being collected is being written off.

Survivors of domestic abuse will be provided with essential,
life-saving support in safe accommodation thanks to a new legal requirement
upon every council in England from next year, the Government has confirmed. As
outlined in the Queen’s Speech, the government intends to amend the Domestic
Abuse Bill to include for the first time a statutory duty on councils to
provide support. The Bill aims to transform the response to domestic abuse to
better protect victims and their children, ensure they have the support they
need, as well as pursuing their abusers. Many councils are already providing
tailored support to those in need, but this move will bring an end to the
postcode lottery of support for those fleeing abusive relationships. Ahead of
this new duty coming into force in 2021, the government has also announced a
further £15 million in funding to run these essential services in 2020 to 2021
– a 20% increase on 2019 to 2020. Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick
MP, said: “Domestic abuse destroys lives and leaves victims living in fear in
the place where they should feel most safe – their homes. This duty upon
councils will now be brought forward – ensuring survivors get the help they
need wherever they are, so they can rebuild their lives away from the threat of
abuse. This government is determined to pursue abusers, better protect victims
and their children, and ensure they have the support they need – so we can end
this abhorrent practice for good.”

And finally, the number of new-born babies subject to care
proceedings in Wales (per 10,000 births) more than doubled between 2015 and
2018, according to new research by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. In
2015, for every 10,000 births in Wales 39 new-borns became the subject of care
proceedings within two weeks of birth. By 2018, the rate had risen to 83 cases
per 10,000 births. In 2018, 52% of all infants (under one year old) subject to
care proceedings in Wales were under two weeks old, a higher proportion than in
2015 (38%). Around half of these babies were born to mothers who had previously
appeared in care proceedings concerning another child. Whilst there are some
differences in the rates of care proceedings issued for new-borns across Wales,
all the family court areas recorded a marked increase in the numbers of
new-borns in child protection cases from 2015 onwards. Lisa Harker, Director of
the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory said: “The removal of a baby into care
is perhaps the most difficult decision that professionals can make to intervene
in family life. This study provides an important starting point for discussions
about how to ensure that more babies are able to be safely cared for by their
parents and that any intervention by professionals is designed to avert
potential harm.”