New-borns in care, secure accommodation and Cafcass figures: The last week in family law

Almost 17,000 new-born babies were taken into care in England in the last nine years, a new study from the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has revealed. The study showed that 2,447 new-borns were subject to care proceedings within one week of birth from 2016 to 2017, compared with 1,039 in 2007-08. Over the nine-year period, a total of 16,849 new-borns were subject to care proceedings. The study also found that almost a third of all infants coming before the courts in care proceedings did so as new-borns in 2007-08. By 2017-18, this proportion had risen to 42%. The study showed significant variation between different regions, with rates for Yorkshire and the Humber more than double those for London. Rob Street, director of justice at the Nuffield Foundation, commented: “For the first time, those working in the family justice system will have detailed analysis of the prevalence of new-born babies subject to care proceedings, and how this is changing over time and in different areas of the country.”

A judge has condemned the lack of secure accommodation
available for children in need. Her Honour Judge Lazarus had been asked by a
local authority to make a secure accommodation order in relation to a 16 year
old boy who was beyond parental control and involved with gangs and drug
dealing. However, she was unable to make the order, due to the lack of secure
accommodation places available. She said that this was “clearly a wholly
unacceptable situation.  He is a child in
local authority care who is at risk from his disordered background and the
depredations of gang life.  This is the
opportunity to help him and make him safe, and it is being lost.” She said that
the case represented “yet another sorry example of the state failing a child in
need”, and directed that her judgment be sent to the Secretary of State for
Education, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and to
the Children’s Commissioner for England.

The latest figures for care applications and private law
demand, for September 2018, have been published by the Children and Family
Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks
after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. In that month
the service received a total of 1,065 new care applications. This figure is
3.8% lower than September 2017. This is the fourth consecutive month in which
the total has been fewer than the preceding year. As to private law demand,
Cafcass received a total of 3,507 new private law cases. This is 1.4% lower
than September 2017.

And finally, Cafcass has also published a new assessment
framework to support its practitioners in assessing the harmful impact of a
range of complex case factors on the children they work with in private law
cases. The Child Impact Assessment Framework (‘CIAF’) is a structured framework
that sets out how children may experience parental separation and how this can
be understood and assessed at Cafcass to inform better outcomes for children. It
brings together new and existing guidance and tools into four guides which
Cafcass practitioners can use to assess the impact on the child of different
case factors, including domestic abuse, harmful conflict, child refusal or
resistance to spend time with one of their parents, which includes guidance on
parental alienation, and other forms of harmful parenting, such as substance
misuse or mental health difficulties. CIAF was informed by an internal advisory
group of 40 practitioners, led by Cafcass’ Assistant Director and Principal
Social Worker, Sarah Parsons, who commented: “I’m delighted that our guides and
tools are now available for Cafcass staff and all interested parties to read
and use. They will further improve how our practitioners assess private law
cases, and also help our family justice partners and the court to recognise and
act on children’s experiences when families are in private law proceedings.”