Children in care, adoption funding and a new justice policy: The last week in family law

New figures from the NSPCC reveal that one in twenty of all the children in England were referred to social services last year. A study by the charity showed that social services departments dealt with just under 660,000 referrals from neighbours, teachers, medical staff and other members of the public about the welfare and safety of 570,800 children in the 12 months to March 2014. That equates to five per cent of the entire under-18 population in England and was 12 per cent higher than the figure in the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of children inside the child protection system across the UK has expanded by 80 per cent in the last 12 years, according to the NSPCC figures.

Along similar lines, the number of vulnerable children being taken into care or placed on child protection plans has increased for the fifth year in succession. Provisional data, using official statistics and fresh figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request, show that the number of at-risk children being looked after by the state rose by 8%, or 5,000, under the coalition government. Meanwhile, the number of vulnerable children placed on child protection plans – meaning they are closely monitored by social workers to ensure their safety – rose by 33% to 52,000 over the same period, while the number of “section 47 inquiries” – to determine whether individual children are being abused or neglected – increased by 42% to 159,000.

Members of the judiciary and senior civil servants have given an update on changes to the divorce process. In particular, further information has been given regarding the new London and South East Divorce Centre at Bury St Edmunds. The Centre will issue broadly 40,000 divorce petitions per year, and will eventually deal with just over 40% of work in England & Wales. The Centre will issue all divorce petitions with the exception of urgent matters, which can still be issued from local courts. Most undefended divorce work will be retained at the Centre. Any defended proceedings or undefended cases requiring a hearing will be transferred to the parties’ preferred court, and cases where parties wish to attend pronouncement to dispute costs or to attend for any other reason will be transferred to their preferred court for pronouncement.

The Department for Education has announced new funding for regional adoption agencies, to help place children in stable, loving homes faster than ever before. A press release states: “Trailblazing councils leading the way in matching children awaiting adoption with their ‘forever family’ are to benefit from new government funding worth £4.5 million. The injection of cash will mean the first regional adoption agencies – groups of councils coming together to match children quickly with adoptive parents – will be up and running months earlier than planned. This is an excellent start to the government’s plans to revolutionise the adoption system by placing all councils in regional adoption agencies by the end of this Parliament, as announced in the Queen’s Speech.”

And finally, in his first speech as Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has said that there is a “dangerous inequality” at the heart of our justice system. On the one hand, he said, there were the wealthy, international class who can, for example, choose to settle cases in London with the gold standard of British justice, and then there was everyone else, “who has to put up with a creaking, outdated system”. The people who are let down most badly by our justice system, he went on, “are those who must take part in it through no fault or desire of their own: victims and witnesses of crime, and children who have been neglected.” He called for an overhaul of the system, including measures to eliminate “waste and inefficiency”, and also suggested that the most successful lawyers could do more work for free, to help protect access to justice for all.