Divorce, children in care and FGM: The last week in family law

The ten most common reasons for divorce petitions being returned by divorce centres has been revealed by Resolution, the association of family lawyers. The reasons included omitting the fee or a document, that the details of the marriage on the petition did not match the details on the marriage certificate, that the statement of case contained insufficient details or was incomplete and that the petition did not contain an address for service of the other party or parties. The information did not include numbers or what proportions of each are from solicitors, rather than litigants in person. About 40% of petitions had to be returned for correction last year, according to HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

The government has announced that the current system of serious case reviews (‘SCRs’) will be scrapped and replaced with a new way of investigating child deaths. The move comes after the publication of the Wood report, reviewing the role and functions of Local Safeguarding Children Boards and, within it, serious case reviews. The current system of serious case reviews will be replaced with a system of national and local reviews. The government will legislate to establish an independent National Panel which would be responsible for commissioning and publishing national reviews and investigate the most serious and complex cases which would lead to national learning. The move has been welcomed by Dave Hill, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, who said: “The current system of SCRs presents serious barriers, is too costly and time consuming and often by the time the review publishes local practice and sometimes policy has moved on significantly. Timelier, local reviews that help partners gather and embed learning in local practice is most welcome”.

Over a quarter of children who were referred for specialist mental health treatment in 2015 did not receive a service, according to information collected by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England. Further, a significant proportion of children with life-threatening mental health conditions were denied specialist support, including children who had attempted suicide or serious self-harm and those with psychosis and anorexia nervosa. The Commissioner said: “Children and young people consistently tell me that they need better mental health support but the information we have received paints a picture of provision that is patchy, difficult to access and unresponsive. Behind the stats are countless stories of children and young people in desperate circumstances not getting the vital support they need.”

The Commissioner has also published a report into advocacy services for children in care. The report found that the majority of children in care are unaware of their entitlement to an advocate and so may left to fend for themselves in meetings with professionals. The report also shows that there are significant variations in the budgets local authorities allocate to advocacy and that few children in care or care-leavers access advocates. The Commissioner commented: “We have found that although authorities should be advertising advocacy to vulnerable children, as well as providing an advocate, too often this is not happening. Children often do not know or understand about their rights to an advocate. Sometimes there isn’t the budget to provide the service needed.”

And finally, more than 1,200 cases of female genital mutilation (‘FGM’) have been recorded in England over the past three months, according to newly released data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. At least two per cent of all new cases were girls under the age of 18. In response to the findings, the Royal College of Midwives professional policy adviser Janet Fyle called on health workers to be “vigilant” when it comes to identifying and tackling FGM. She said: “These figures show that we need renewed and focused efforts to tackle FGM. This has to be backed by a national action plan so that all sectors and all professionals see FGM as their business, and protecting girls from such abuses becomes a normal part of their practice. Every one of these numbers is a girl or young woman who has been subjected to abuse.”