Ofsted reports, legal aid and relationship support: The last week in family law

Children’s services in Coventry – at the centre of the Daniel Pelka case – have been branded “inadequate” by Ofsted. Coventry City Council was criticised for a lack of robust management and not seeing vulnerable children fast enough. The Ofsted report said bosses had not tackled weaknesses in social care fast enough, that meetings to discuss concerns about children were “not always effective enough” and that social workers have such heavy caseloads that they can’t do their jobs properly. The council has revealed that the department will receive an initial funding injection of £5.6m and then an extra £4m a year from 2015/2016.

A statistical release by the Ministry of Justice has shown that between the 1st of April and the 31st of December 2013 only eight applications to the Legal Aid Agency for exceptional case funding in family proceedings were successful. The period covered by the release relates to that following implementation of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which abolished legal aid for most private law family matters. Section 10 of the act introduced the practice of applying for Exceptional Case Funding (ECF). An ECF application for funding can be made where a case falls outside the scope of legal aid but the client or conducting solicitor believes there is evidence to support there being a requirement to provide funding, because failure to do so would be a breach of their human rights.

The UK’s only forced marriage and honour-based abuse helpline has received almost double the number of monthly calls it had last year. The project, funded by the Ministry of Justice, is experiencing more calls than ever before and missed almost 140 calls in one month both from people potentially at risk of being coerced into marriage or of abuse at the hands of their family or community, and from professionals trying to help victims. Almost 1,070 calls came into the helpline, run by the Karma Nirvana charity, this January, compared with just over 660 in the same month last year. The charity claims it is missing double the number of calls it did 12 months ago.

Midwives, GPs and registrars will be enlisted to help couples stay together and reduce levels of family breakdown under government plans, according to The Daily Telegraph. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is apparently examining a series of new policies aimed at reducing the stigma surrounding counselling and relationship support services. Under the plans, which were presented to ministers earlier this month, midwives, GPs and registrars will be encouraged to talk to couples about their relationships. They will then direct couples to one of a series of accredited relationship support services to help bolster their relationships. Employers could also be encouraged to play a more active role in signposting relationship support services to their staff.

And finally, local authorities are not doing enough to protect children from neglect, according to a report by Ofsted. The education watchdog wants the extent of neglect better understood by councils and safeguarding-children boards, and the development of more shared strategies to prioritise action. The Ofsted inspectors found “inconsistent approaches” to assessing neglect, and concluded that children are being left for too long in harmful situations in nearly half of the long-term cases they examined. The report coincides with a survey conducted for the charity Action for Children which found that 73% of children know another child who is suffering from neglect. Action for Children says neglect now affects 1.5 million children – one in 10 of the UK’s child population.