Weekly Family Law Update March 21, 2021

Overweight children, more social workers and Cafcass figures

Children placed in foster care following concerns over their weight

Two children, aged 16 and 13, have been removed from their parents’ care, after social services raised concerns that they were seriously overweight.

Social services in West Sussex had tried to avoid removing the children by putting together a weight loss plan, including providing them with fitness trackers, gym membership, and signing the family up to Weight Watchers. However, months later there was no reduction in the children’s weight. They also had not provided recordings from their trackers, or attended the Weight Watchers appointments consistently.

The local authority therefore proceeded with an application for care orders.

Hearing the application District Judge Gillian Ellis told the children: “I am concerned about your health and the way in which your weight impacts on this.  We are all much more aware now of the problems that being overweight can cause, problems which can be life-threatening, such as diabetes, heart conditions, and joint problems, or life‑inhibiting, restricting the clothes you can wear and the things you can do.”

She went on:

“I know you will feel that, in making this order, I am taking something away from you, to be able to live with your mother in your own familiar home, but I would like you to think that I’m giving you something, a chance to learn new ways of eating and exercise which will benefit you for the rest of your life.”

“Everyone understands that if they have a serious illness they may need to spend some time in hospital, and I would like you to consider your move into foster care in the same way, a period away from your home, to help you get better.”

Cafcass increases social worker numbers

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings, has increased its full-time social worker numbers by 11% across the country over the last year, to deal with mounting demand.

Since March 2020 the service has increased social work numbers by 150, tripling agency headcount.

The increase is in response to a rise in caseloads, with open cases increasing from 33,640 in April 2020 to a record 42,719 in February 2021, as a result of referral numbers and Covid-induced delays in processing cases through the family courts.

The increase was welcomed by Napo, the trade union that represents staff at Cafcass. General Secretary Ian Lawrence commented:

“Any increase in staffing number is good news but the numbers do not reflect the seriousness of the workload crisis in Cafcass. The minister (Lord Wolfson) must make it an absolute priority to stabilise the service and ensure it can deliver.

“We urge the minister to draw up a long-term strategy and engage with Napo to properly resource Cafcass and alleviate the immense stress being put upon staff.”

Latest Cafcass figures for children cases

Still with Cafcass, the service has published its latest figures for public law (including care) applications and private law demand (mainly child arrangements applications), for February 2021.

In that month Cafcass received 1,374 new public law cases, featuring 2,139 children; this represents a decrease of 1.9% (27 public law cases) and a decrease of 7.9% (184 children) on the 1,140 new public law cases received and the 2,323 children on those cases in February 2020.

As to private law demand, Cafcass received 3,827 new private law cases in February 2021, which is 12 cases (0.3%) more than the same period in 2020. These cases involved 5,306 children, which is 509 (8.8%) fewer children than February 2020.